“Tales of Rabassada” is Catalan director Ferran Romeu’s first short documentary that had its international premiere at the Visions du Réel Film Festival and, as its titles unequivocally suggests, it tells us tales of Barcelona’s Rabassada neighborhood.
In 1899, the Grand Hotel was built in La Rabassada and decorated by the French painter Edmond Lechevallier-Chevignard. In 1911, it was expanded with a casino designed by the Catalan architect Andreu Audet i Puig, and an amusement park inspired by those of Paris, London and New York. More than three-hundred guests attended the inauguration on 5 July 1911, ten years after the opening of the Tibidabo. This majestic casino was the symbol of luxury of a city in full economic expansion. Indeed, it did not lack anything and even had its own amusement park, a restaurant with large dining rooms and chefs brought in from Paris, an orchestra, a luxury hotel, arcades, a chapel and grandiose gardens with exotic plants from all over the world. The casino enjoyed a reputation as a center of roulette game where fortunes were lost. As far as the amusement park is concerned, there are long underground tunnels on the premises, some of which are still well preserved – namely three. Two are four meters wide and five meters high. The third, however, was boarded up and there is no way in or out. At the time, they were used as storage spaces and warehouses. A little more than fifty meters from these tunnels, and towards the city of Barcelona, is a lake that supposedly stood under the rollercoaster. The compound’s decline began in 1912 when the governor banned gambling, which caused the casino’s bankruptcy within a year. The complex continued to operate as a hotel, restaurant and amusement park. It regained momentum on the occasion of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, but General Primo de Rivera prohibited the game again that year, thus prompting the progressive termination of all activities until 1930. The restaurant was then definitely closed, the building began to deteriorate and, during the Spanish Civil War, was used as a refuge from the bombing in 1938 and later, as barracks. The facilities were demolished in 1940 and now, there are only remnants of walls and columns, half-destroyed rooms, sculptures hidden in the vegetation, entrances and tunnels, pits closed with wrought iron, arches, fountains and fragments of steps…
Today, Andrei squats in the ruins of what once was one of the most emblematic buildings of Belle Époque Barcelona. Having become the unlikely keeper of a building that epitomized the Catalan bourgeoisie’s dreams at the beginning of the 20th Century, the Russian globetrotter guides us, in front of Ferran Romeu’s camera, through the exploration of the place, buried under vegetation – a symbol of the inevitable passage of time and the ephemeral nature of glory.
Romeu’s film begins with old black and white photographs of the Casino of La Rabassada with a voiceover of the song “Full Moon” by Eden Ahbez, intersected with explanations on the building appearing on the screen. Then enters Andrei who starts his exposé and shares his vast knowledge not only of the neighborhood and building where he lives but also of the period of its glory. We almost feel like virtual tourists on a guided tour of a once glorious and now dilapidated and shady part of town – a look at a Barcelona that once was. He tells us about an opponent of Franco who hid there during the Spanish Civil War as well Enriqueta Martí i Ripolles, the female serial killer of Barcelona, and rollercoasters… With the help of his neighbor Paco and a friend, Andrei musters the courage to go down into the aforementioned tunnels to unravel the mystery and experience the history and tales he knows and recounts. For the three of them, it is a place of mystery where they imagine a common grave from the Civil War, or a drug cartel hideout. Perhaps inspired by James Cameron’s Titanic, Romeu superposes footage of Andrei in the underground with old photos of the casino, thus suggesting what the keeper of the casino might be imagining.
Romeu nimbly captures the passage of time and the testimony of History, cleverly awakening our curiosity with this unconventional documentary on an original topic. “Tales of Rabassada” sparks our imagination and curiosity and takes us back to the Barcelona of the turn of the century. It is amusing, truthful and edifying.
O.T. : Historias de la Rabassada
Production: ESCAC Films (Spain 2015)
Producer: Sergi Casamitjana
Director: Ferran Romeu
Screenplay: Ferran Romeu and Juan González
Photography: Victor Català
Music: Moondog, Eden Ahbez and Robbie Basho
Editing: Anaïs Urraca
Color/B&W – 28 min
Premiere: 19-IV-2016 (Visions du Réel)
Note: This review was originally published on Yellow Bread’s sister publication, The Film Prospector, in April 2016.