Grandma's house has empty feeling

Special to The Times

"Construction coming soon," reads a sign in Adan Aliaga's bittersweet documentary "My Grandmother's House." An upbeat contractor smiles while he hangs the sign on a soon-to-be-demolished house, but as the camera cuts in on the hammer blows, it's as if a coffin were being nailed shut.

Gentrification looks radically different from different perspectives. Where some might see urban renewal and soaring property values, Aliaga sees the death of a neighborhood and a long-standing way of life, as well the displacement of his 75-year-old grandmother, Marita Fuentes, who has lived in the same house for 53 years.

In the Spanish town of San Vicente del Raspeig, near Alicante, Aliaga soaks up the texture of Marita's daily life, from the moment she laboriously steps into her girdle to her evening pat-down with a wet washcloth. Until news comes that Marita will be forced out to make way for a new apartment complex, little happens, and what does feels forced, almost staged.

It's not particularly clear why Marita's house is invaded by Marina, her willful 4-year-old granddaughter (the filmmaker's cousin), nor why the girl's frequently mentioned parents don't show up until the final minutes.

Aliaga likely intends the alternately loving and combative relationship between grandmother and granddaughter as a flesh-and-blood counterpoint to the bulldozers of progress.

But the analogy feels forced, arbitrary, as do the movie's periodic spasms of impressionistic imagery.

The overworked digital video footage and swollen, portentous score betray a basic lack of confidence in the story (conceived, according to the press notes, as a frame for Aliaga's abstract footage collection).

This is gentrification of a different, no less suspect sort, slapping a flashy facade on a humble but sturdy structure.


'My Grandmother's House'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Distributed by Videogenic. Writer-director-cinematographer Adan Aliaga. Producers Aliaga, Juanjo Jimenez, Xose Zapata. Editor Nacho Ruiz Capillas. In Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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