Two Catalonias provides an interesting look into one of the more turbulent elections in recent democratic history, but it’s a long and chaotic piece of work.
The most effective scene in Two Catalonias occurs early in the two-hour runtime. It’s filmed from above, presumably from a balcony, in a swaying handheld fashion that suggests a mobile phone. It depicts a multi-coloured throng of voters amassing outside polling stations to vote in the referendum for Catalonia’s independence from Spain. Black-outfitted riot police viciously club the voters. One woman, with a tennis-ball-sized swelling over her cheek and eye, raises her arms in triumph when she’s finally able to submit her vote.
A lot of the new Netflix documentary is like this. It was co-directed by Gerardo Olivares and Álvaro Longoria (both from Spain, though neither consider themselves Spanish), and collects close to a hundred interviews with various key figures in the Catalan political scene with perspectives both for and against independence. The undercurrent of Two Catalonias is the profoundly undemocratic nature of the push for sovereignty; how it was handled politically, how it was communicated via the media, and how it was manipulated for the public. It’s difficult to argue with the results.
The documentary makes use of the interviews, including ones with former president Carles Puigdemont and former foreign minister Raül Romeva, interspersed with archive footage and explanatory captions, written in Spanish and translated into subtitled English. It’s a lot to take in, and the procession of names, acronyms, political parties and whatever else is occasionally confounding, especially by the sheer speed of the lilting, musical Spanish language. The presentation is reminiscent of Active Measures, which was also so eager to get the point across that it occasionally managed to make no point at all.
Still, despite so many points of view being presented, the overall impression that the referendum was a manic, potentially illegal, and definitely underhanded fiasco is a clear one. If only Two Catalonias itself was a bit more interested in clarity, it would serve its purpose a little better.