“Great Yarmouth, provisional figures” by Marco Martins, ghosts in a ghost town

In official selection at the San Sebastian festival, Great Yarmouth, provisional figures. A feature film by Portuguese director Marco Martins about Portuguese immigration to the East Coast of England. A dark film like a nightmare, carried by breathtaking actors.

From our special correspondent in San Sebastián,

Here everything is dark… We are in Great Yarmouth which was once, explains the commentary in voice-over and in English, a spruce post-war seaside resort. Today emptied of its vital forces and decrepit, it is an impoverished third age who comes to spend his pension there on slot machines and other bingos. A seaside that we hardly see or hardly see – dunes and marshes – but present in the words repeated by Tania, the main character, like a mantra: “ sea ​​view room “… Tania, who always has an earphone screwed in her ear and repeats her English lessons to prepare for “the aftermath”: “ sea ​​view room », « equipped American kitchen »… Tania’s dream: to renovate the pension she manages to make it a residence for the elderly. For that, she also learns to dance “in line”, these saloon dances very worn in the clubs of elderly characters.

Tania, a hard-faced and unprepossessing person, takes care of welcoming Portuguese migrant compatriots fleeing the economic crisis in their country, the pork and cheese as the locals call them. She lodges them, collects their papers, makes them work in a turkey slaughterhouse, watches them on the chain, eavesdrops on their conversations. There, no fixed schedules, the worker must adapt to the needs of the demand. They are ” provisional figures is the subtitle of the film, occasional reinforcements, silhouettes.

We are in winter, most of the images are shot at night: the comings and goings of migrants at the factory -tired silhouettes-, the corridors and rooms of Tania’s pension with leprous walls… everything is dirty and sinister. A labyrinthine and claustrophobic setting, explains the director. The only clear colors are the red of the blood of the animals that are slaughtered and the bench of feathers that go down the drain. Slaughtering, deboning and plucking, dirty jobs that the English do not want to do, are reserved for these ghost workers. You can almost smell the smell of blood, death, excrement in which the workers are bathed, at work and at boarding school, so strong is the image of the director of photography Joao Ribeiro.

Ghosts in a ghost town

Like turkeys, Portuguese migrants allow themselves to be led to the slaughterhouse by an English mafia, including the companion of Tania, a shady character who loses fortunes in greyhound racing. When a lumpen exploits another lumpen. But the cash machine will jam when the relatives of a dead Portuguese migrant come to demand accountability.

The idea for the film was born in 2017 when the director was invited to the city of Great Yarmouth to set up a theater play project for the city’s strong Portuguese community, which represents some 10,000 people. An isolated community, without contact with the locals, as shown by this image of the bus which comes to dump the Portuguese workers at the factory. A play on the exploitation of these workers and built from their testimonies.

Part of the cast of the film "Great Yarmouth, provisional figures": Romeo Runa, Nuno Lopes, director Marco Martins, Beatriz Batarda and Kriss Hitchen

In the cast of the film, actors from the theater in this first play, factory workers, Briton Kris Hitchen (who we saw in Sorry we missed you by Ken Loach in 2019), who plays Tania’s companion, Beatriz Batarda (impressive Tania), Romeu Luna and Nuno Lopes. Actors who have all spent time in the factory to get in condition, to have a physical experience of the harshness of this life, explains the director. A film about immigration, racism, the imposed harshness of human relationships, which lets little sunlight through… but it’s made for it.

Beatriz Batarda is Tania in Marco Martins' film, "Great Yarmouth, provisional figures".  The actress told a press conference that she herself had been a migrant worker in the United Kingdom.