Untitled Document

Migration as Memory, Mobility and Space in Un Franco, 14 Pesetas (2004)
Araceli Masterson-Algar
University of Kansas


In Un Franco, 14 Pesetas (2004), Carlos Iglesias tells the story of Spanish migration to Central Europe during the 1960s through a fictional remembering of his family’s years as immigrants to Uzwil, in the Swiss eastern province of Toggenburg. His memories of the Swiss landscape, luminous, green, and open contrast with a grim, grey and enclosed Madrid, both origin and end of the six-year journey. This essay explores the interrelation between memory, space, and human mobility in Un Franco, 14 Pesetas. Through a journey of migration to Switzerland, Iglesias tells a story of return to Madrid, and unveils the contradictions of Spain’s so-called ‘economic miracle’ of the 1960s. Merging experiences of arrival and departure, presents and pasts, Iglesias’s film shows how immigration is rooted in space, and inseparable from economic, political and social processes that are historically specific.

Araceli Masterson-Algar is Associate Professor at the University of Kansas. She works on the intersection of urban cultural studies and human mobility. Her published research is largely on Ecuador-Spain migration dynamics, and specifically on the ties between transnational social processes, cultural production, and urban planning in both Quito and Madrid. Araceli has authored Ecuadorians in Madrid: Migrants Place in Urban History (Palgrave 2016), and co-edited ‘Migrant Deaths in the Arizona Desert: La Vida no Vale Nada (University of Arizona Press, 2016). She is Associate Editor of the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies.


In his short story “El otro yo,” Jorge Luis Borges imagines his alter ego in Switzerland, where he lived as a child, from a bench that is “en dos tiempos y en dos sitios” [in two times and at two locations].[1] Borges’s memories materialize through idealized Swiss landscapes, where memory and forgetting converge. More recently, in his film Un Franco, 14 Pesetas (2004) Carlos Iglesias remembers his childhood in Uzwil, in the Swiss eastern province of Toggenburg from 1960 to 1966, through a story of Spanish migration to Central Europe. In the film, Martín (Carlos Iglesias) and his close friend Marcos (Javier Gutiérrez) lose their jobs at the Pegaso factory on the outskirts of Madrid, and migrate to Switzerland to work as industrial mechanics in Uzwil. After falling prey to a real estate scam that meant the loss of one year of remittances, Pilar, Martín’s wife (Nieve de Medina), and their son Pablo (Iván Martín and Tim Frederic Quast) join Martín in Switzerland, where they live until their return to Madrid five years later. Their memories of the Swiss landscape, as luminous, green, and open as those of Borges’s story, contrast with a grim, grey and enclosed Madrid, both origin and end of the six-year journey.  This essay explores the interrelation between memory, space, and human mobility in Un Franco, 14 Pesetas. Merging experiences of arrival and departure, presents and pasts, Iglesias´s film shows how immigration is rooted in space, and inseparable from economic, political and social processes that are historically specific. Through a journey of migration to Switzerland, Iglesias tells a story of return to Madrid, and unveils the contradictions of Spain’s so-called ‘economic miracle’ of the 1960s. 

Although Un Franco, 14 Pesetas is normally included in the corpus of recent films addressing migration to Spain, it stands apart in important ways. Namely, its protagonists are Spanish nationals, and their journey is above all, and as will be further developed, one of return. Furthermore, the film’s biographical and autobiographical elements challenge its general categorization as a fiction piece.  Adrián Sáez notes how Iglesias “recupera y retuerce para la ficción retazos de su biografía personal” [recuperates and twists patches of his personal biography into fiction] (57). Yet, rather than using the term ‘fiction,’ Iglesias explains the script as a merging of memories: those collected through interviews with 58 Spanish and Italian families who migrated to Switzerland during the 1960s, his parents’ memories, and his own (Iglesias, “The making”). Thus, the main characters, Martín (played by Carlos Iglesias himself) and Pilar, are based on the director’s father and mother respectively. It follows that their son, Pablo, is an autobiographical young Iglesias.

As an expression of a collective history through individual memories, Un Franco, 14 Pesetas draws attention to the absences, erasures and silences at the margins of dominant narratives of Spanish migration. For instance, isHisIsolina Ballesteros finds Iglesias’s approximation to migration “unusual” in its largely positive account of Spanish immigrants’ experience in Switzerland (255). Carlos Iglesias on his part, describes the difficulties in selling a story that digresses from master narratives of migration to Central Europe during the Franco regime: 

“Había gente que quería ver a suizos malísimos tratando mal a los emigrantes, y otros suizos que querían ver a la Guardia Civil pegando a los obreros a la salida de Pegaso. Como yo me resistía a ponerlo, tuve que ir pasando de productores hasta que encontré a alguien que creyó en la historia tal y como yo la contaba.[Some people wanted me to show the terrible treatment of Spanish immigrants at the hands of the Swiss, and some Swiss wanted to see Spain’s Civil Guard beating the workers at the entrance to the Pegaso factory. Because I resisted including that, I went from producer to producer until someone believed in the story as I wanted to tell it] (Coucero).

Indeed, Un Franco, 14 Pesetas does not explicitly address the mistreatment of Spanish immigrants in Switzerland, nor does it use their story to convey a political position against the Franco regime.[2] Rather, it is an invitation to think the interrelation between individual memories and collective histories, and between lived experience and its narratives: “Que cada uno saque sus conclusiones de lo que fue, lo que somos, lo que fuimos, como nos trataron, como tratamos; que cada uno sacara sus conclusiones” [Let each of us draw our own conclusions of what it was, of who we are, what we were, of how we were treated and how we treat others; let each draw their conclusions] (Iglesias, “The making”). 

Following on Michel Foucault, Patrick Hutton highlights how “rather than returning to some mythical beginning and working forward, the historian would do better to proceed from the present backward” (112).  Un Franco, 14 Pesetas stems from contemporary migration dynamics in Madrid in order to evoke memories of Switzerland, decades after Iglesias’s return to Madrid at the age of sixteen. The director himself confirms his project as part and parcel of present day migration debates in Spain: “se me ocurrió que a lo mejor era necesario contar nuestra emigración hacia centro Europa en los años 60” [I thought that maybe it was necessary to address our emigration to Central Europe during the 1960s] (Iglesias, “The making”). This is further strengthened in the words that close the final scene: “Dedicado a ellos, a todos ellos” [Dedicated to them, to every one of them]. Thus, Iglesias evokes the power of Spain’s collective memory of migration (our emigration) to question narratives of ‘us’ and ‘them’ through time and space, and to confirm the film as a creative process that is active and unfinished.

Memory, as noted by Geoffrey White, is the cultural expression of “social practices, embodied emotions, and material landscapes that move individuals and communities alike.” It is therefore as much about the past as it is about the present and its imagined futures (335). This is certainly the case in Un Franco, 14 Pesetas, where personal experiences speak to larger social processes in an effort that prioritizes remembering over representations of the past.  As Iglesias explains:

“En cualquier caso, esta es una historia contada desde la perspectiva y la comprensión que da el tiempo, y desde la ternura y humanidad que da el haberla vivido” [Ultimately, this is a story told from the perspective and understanding that time provides, and from the tenderness and humanity of having lived it] (Coucero). 

As the quote above suggests, the collapsing of time and space through individual and collective memories is not an impediment to remember, nor a slip from fact to ‘fiction’, but rather, a strengthening of memory’s possibilities in the present.

Offering a narrative for past-presents and present-futures, Carlos Iglesias returns to his memories of Switzerland, in order to address the distance between his parents’ experience of return to Madrid, a city they knew well, and his arrival as a 16 year-old-boy to a city he did not choose. Iglesias spent much of his childhood, and all of his schooling, in Switzerland. Hence, in the film, Pablo understands his parents’ decision to return to Madrid as a departure that will eventually bring him back to Uzwil. As he explains to his friends, he will return because, “Yo no soy inmigrante. Yo crecí aqui” [I am not an immigrant. I grew up here]. Thus, contrary to his parents’ journey, Pablo’s arrival to Madrid is not a return home, but a departure that rearticulates master narratives of Spanish migration to Central Europe into an embodied personal memory of the “sentimiento amargo tremendo de la vuelta a Madrid en el 66” [tremendous bitter feeling of the return to Madrid in 1966]. Under this light, Iglesias’s film is not so much a story of emigration from Spain to Switzerland, as it is a return to a Madrid immersed in massive urbanization during the period known as the ‘economic miracle’ of the 1960s. This journey, physical and imaginary, is one of movement, of its reach, possibilities and limitations, as contingent on social hierarchies that extend well beyond national boundaries but that are nonetheless anchored in specific time and space. Hence, attention to the ties between memory, mobility and space in Un Franco, 14 Pesetas opens a window into Madrid’s recent history.


“More than a trip”: Bridges

Changes in Spain’s agrarian practices due to industrialization, high unemployment and increased social tensions led, starting in the 1950s, to an estimated seven million Spaniards (nearly 20% of the population) leaving rural areas and settling in cities.  Approximately two million of them took the journey to Central and Northern Europe, where the end of the Second World War marked a period of economic growth. In turn, their remittances, estimated in well over three thousand million dollars, fueled the Spanish economy (Riera Ginestar 44-48).[3] Inseparable from these processes, in 1953, the Franco Regime signed the ‘Pacto de Madrid’ that allowed the United States to install U.S. military bases in Spain in exchange for support in foreign investments. Malcolm Compitello (1999, 2003a, 2003b) and others highlight this moment as Madrid’s surrender to the dynamics of capital. Immersed in continued demographic growth, the city became the grounds for Franco’s turn to “full engagement in city-building business” (Richardson 15), marked by alliances of the Regime with real estate and construction industries.[4]

Spain’s cinematic production spoke to the above processes, showing a gradual transition from the idealization of rural Spain in films from the 1940s to narratives of middle-class urban consumption and leisure starting in the 1950s.[5] Un Franco, 14 Pesetas draws from the tragicomedy and neorealist aesthetics of this filmic genealogy (Iglesias, “The making”) to address Madrid through the experiences of migration and displacement of three generations: Martín’s parents, Martín and Pilar, and Pablo. This tie is made explicit when Martín’s mother critiques her son’s decision to move to Switzerland. Her husband replies with a question that ties their migration from rural Spain to Madrid to their son’s decision to leave for Switzerland: “¿Y tú, en tu pueblo?” [what about you and your village?].  Broadly, Iglesias’s film inserts itself in a genealogy of popular culture through memories of travel; that is, through the ways in which movement and displacement –lived and imagined– unveil the entwinement between Spain’s so-called “economic miracle” of the 1950s and 60s, Madrid’s urban processes, and the lived experiences of its residents.

Un Franco, 14 Pesetas structures the narrative through the experience of travel. But, as the promotional poster for the film announces [See figure 1], this

Figure 1

Figure 1.


journey is “mucho más que un viaje” [much more than a trip]; it is the starting point of a path to a new life [“Iniciaban el camino hacia una nueva vida”]. The accompanying image shows Martín and Pablo sitting facing each other atop a bridge in the moment in the film when Pablo learns of his parents’ decision to return to Madrid. Richard Dennis analyzes the bridge as a space of hopes and fears, of opportunities and threats (20), precisely all the contradictions at play in the various implications of this return for each member of the family. This medium-long shot marks the start of the end of the film, while further reinforcing the salience of the return to Madrid over the arrival to Switzerland.  As a structure that is inherently for passage and transition, the bridge also connects the characters’ specific experiences of departure and return across generations, simultaneously affirming individual and collective histories.

Smets and Shannon explain that some of Switzerland’s bridges date to the 14th century, and were built for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela (128). In a way, Carlos Iglesias’s return to his childhood in Switzerland via the film is a form of pilgrimage. Under this light, the bridge connects Madrid to the landscapes of Switzerland, offering a means to convey the distance between Martín and Pilar’s return to Madrid, and Pablo’s departure to his parents’ location of return. In other words, in order to understand his place in Madrid’s built environment, Carlos Iglesias must return to ‘the source;’ that is, to the idyllic landscapes that hold his memories in Switzerland. Vladimir Jankélevitch addressed this process in regards to Franz Liszt’s piece Années de pèlerinage, where the composer explores his physical and spiritual response to the Swiss landscape:

The very intention of the pilgrim (when not making a homecoming) is to return to the source, whatever source that might be, the way one finds in Italy the origins of Western civilization, or in Switzerland, primitive nature. At the edge of the source-spring: during his year in Switzerland, the emotional pilgrim saw the wellspring of primal waters rise forth from the glacier, listened to their sweet, soft murmurings, saw their childlike games. One never makes a pilgrimage to Chicago –unless one has grown up there, or by chance, loved and suffered there” (Jankélevitch 345)[6]


Bergson and Bachelard, Deleuze and Guattari, as well as other scholars in mobility studies have insisted on the journey as an embodied experience. To them, the physical experience of moving rearticulates how we perceive the relation between ourselves and the world. Above all, moving is an embodied experience that articulates the interrelation between the imagined and the material: “The body especially senses as it moves” (Urry, Mobilities 48). Drawing from the metaphor of memory as a journey, Beatriz Sarlo addresses remembrance as a form of healing the alienation of the migrant body (51) –that is, an embodied experience. The journey proposed by Iglesias, imagined and physical, acts as an embodiment of memory, and as such a venue to heal.  In Un Franco, 14 Pesetas, Iglesias returns to Switzerland through memories that are past, present and future, and that weave through the continuities of departures and returns. Ultimately, this trip is about the process of remembering, as a venue of return through the remaking of a destination. Hence, after six years in Switzerland, Martín, Pilar and Pablo do not return to the city where they once lived, but to one they had to make. In this journey, memory –lined inevitably with departures– ties migration and space to embodied experiences, and offers a bridge between individual and collective memories that preference the human experience over national narratives. Thus, Carlos Iglesias provides what Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith describes as ‘memories with warnings’ (35). Through Martín’s story, Iglesias merges his memory with that of his parents, and with those of the millions of Spaniards who left for northern Europe during the 1960s. In turn, audiences are invited to remember (and are reminded of) their connections to the millions of migrants arriving to Spain today.

Prior to leaving Switzerland, Martín seeks Hanna (Isabel Blanco), former lover and owner of the pension where he lived during his first year in Uzwil, to let her know of his decision to return to Spain. Her one-word reply, ‘Heimat,’ addresses her deep understanding of Martín’s decision. Loosely translated from German as “sense of place,” ‘Heimat’ is a broader concept than ‘home.’  For Peter Blickle ‘Heimat’ is “fictionalized and idealized by the subjective forces of nostalgia and melancholy,” “the product of alienation,” and a “wish to return to a (fictional) place of innocence” (67).[7] Hanna understands Martín’s return as a response to the longing of what was left behind. Yet, ‘Heimat’ holds the grounds that bridge Martín’s return to Madrid with Pablo’s departure from Uzwil, merging Carlos Iglesias’s memories of departure from Switzerland as a child to those of his father’s return to Spain. Carlos Iglesias himself describes Uzwil as his "kleine/small Heimat" for which he still gets "Heimweh"; that is, the longing to return to the Heimat (“Das Leben”). The landscape of Switzerland serves, therefore, as the visual expression of a shared experience of ´Heimat´ that spans generations, while paving the family’s return to Madrid. Ultimately, Un Franco, 14 Pesetas grounds the journey from Spain to Switzerland and back, departing from a basement in a building in Madrid’s neighborhood of Argüelles, and concluding on the third floor of a public housing project in the capital’s peripheral neighborhood of San Blas. 


Departure #1: A Plane Flying in the Basement

At the start of the film, Martín, Pilar, Pablo and his grandparents live in the basement of an upper-class housing unit in Madrid’s central neighborhood of Argüelles, where Martín’s father works as doorman and caretaker. In the opening scene, Pilar’s voice in off calls the name ‘Martín’ as the camera pans down from a low angle shot of two small windows above to the bodies of the couple lying on the bed of the small room they share with their son. The flashes coming into the bedroom from the headlights of cars passing by point to the spatial constraints that ultimately drive Martín’s decision to migrate, and highlight the contradictions in place between Madrid’s modernity, and the lived experiences of many of its residents. This is particularly salient, given  Martín’s employment as an industrial mechanic in Pegaso, one of Europe’s leading European industrial vehicle makers at the time.   

Hence, from the off start, the family’s home “below” one of Madrid’s emblematic bourgeoisie neighborhoods reveals the interrelation between social hierarchies and differential access to space.  Dark extreme-low and extreme-high angle shots within closed frames, and shots of passersby’s feet walking outside the family’s bedroom window convey the corporeal experience of living in the basement [See figure 2]. This is most evident in a crane shot of Martín and his father conversing in the interior patio of their home. On the receiving end of the dust falling from the beating of rugs on the floors above, their location in the basement translates into coughing and the rush to seek cover. In a later scene, Pilar learns that Martín has lost his job as the camera transitions from a low-angle shot of her feet to a high-angle shot of a very young Pablo playing on the floor with a toy airplane. Thus, while the camera conveys social fragmentation as on par with the spatial constraints of the basement, Pablo raises his toy plane above his head anticipating imagination and possibility. The paradox of a plane in the basement sets the grounds for the family’s journey, first to Switzerland by train, back to Madrid by car, and, ultimately, through the city on foot.

Figure 2

Figure 2.


Departure #2: Trains Crossing Landscapes

Martín and his family depart Madrid’s urban setting and arrive by train in the Swiss landscape which they experience for its striking beauty. As Pilar exclaims upon arrival, “¡Pero qué bonito es todo! [Everything is so so beautiful!]. Tim Ingold defines the landscape as “the taskscape made visible” (167). The shots of Uzwil, real and imaginary, nature and culture, are the visual testimony of Carlos Iglesias’s memories, and a means for their insertion in a larger collective history; that is, in “the lives and works of past generations who have left there something of themselves” (Ingold, 167). The choice of the train is key to this process.

Reati identifies the train as a “disparador de memorias individuales y/o sociales” [trigger of individual and social memories] (13). A recurrent metaphor, trains are a means to evoke nostalgia, and their presence is a constant in Spanish films addressing Spain’s migration history. [8] The scenes of Martín and Marcos’ departure at the train station in Madrid tap into the imagery of Spain’s collective memory. Diegetic sounds of the station, flat colors and low lighting, abrupt transitions between medium shots, close-ups and extreme close-ups of faces and of the iconic ‘maletas de cartón’ [cardboard suitcases] enhance the anguish of the departure while in dialogue with historical footage of immigrants at train stations through the 1960s.

Sarah Misemer highlights the role of the train as “a vehicle to convey major shifts in frameworks of perception from the 19th century to present” (19). Along these lines, as Urry and others have noted, the rail flattened and subdued the countryside, while also having a decisive role in urban processes from the 19th century to present.  By offering a visual experience of the land as landscape, train travel changed our relationship to nature, time and space (Urry 94-102)[9]. These processes are beautifully conveyed in Un Franco, 14 Pesetas, where the journey by train marks a transition from the high, low and tilted shots and closed frames of life in Madrid to the visual order of the Swiss landscape. Once the train takes off, the constrained and fragmented space of life in Spain’s capital gives way to a horizontal continuum of middle, long, crisply colored panoramic shots of the Swiss Alps.

Yet, as a symbol of 19th century progress, the train is promise and possibility, but also agent of pollution and danger (Smets and Kelly 123). Hence, it mediates between modernity as progress and modernity as delusion and, it follows, between imaginaries of tradition and progress (Reati 13). Along similar lines, Bracamonte describes the train as a means to work through the interrelation of the cultural and the urban, and a metaphor for the hope and destruction of so-called modern development (35). In Un Franco, 14 Pesetas, hope and fear, possibility and loss find their expression through the immigrant bodies aboard the train. This is particularly telling during Pilar and Pablo’s travel to reunite with Martín. Middle and low angle shots convey the hardship of the train ride, showing Pilar standing up through the night with Pablo lying on the suitcases at her feet. The camera pans out to show the window behind them, lit with the colors of dawn. Furthermore, hope and nostalgia combine in the train’s forward move as the camera moves to the right to reveal the source of the sonic accompaniment to these scenes: a migrant worker intoning the popular Spanish song “Los campanilleros”, an evocation of rural Andalucía, Spain’s southern region (See figure 3). The overlap of the sonic allusions to rural Spain with the visual scenery of Switzerland outside the window highlight the interrelation between memory and hope in the migrants’ journey. Thus, rural Spain –an imagined ‘home’– serves as backdrop to Pilar and Pablo’s arrival in the natural landscape of Switzerland, also markedly contrasting with their actual home in Madrid’s basement.

Figure 3

Figure 3.


Thus, the migrants’ journey by train moves forward, albeit looking back to a return “home” –or rather, to a place and time that never existed; as noted by Richardson, to “a purely aesthetic dream […] of a time when space and place could be observed and organized” (88). Carlos Iglesias sums his memory of the journey from Madrid to Uzwil as a ride from a basement to a garden:

“Un día mi madre me cogió, me llevo al tren, pasamos muchas horas de pie en el vagón, y…¡Llegamos a un jardín! Salí del sótano y me llevaron a un lugar maravilloso con un río, bosques, donde podía ir con la bicicleta” [One day my mother grabbed me by the hand, and took me to the train. We spent many hours standing on the train car and…We arrived at a garden! I left the basement and they took me to a wonderful place with a river, and woods, where I could ride my bicycle] (Coucero).

The reiteration of the topics of migration and of the rural-urban divide in Spanish cinema must be understood, warns Richardson, as venues to address the interrelation between people and their spaces of habitation. Through the train ride from the basement to the garden, Un Franco, 14 Pesetas offers somewhat of a mirror image of the rural-urban divide in Spain’s cinematic tradition, while drawing from its aesthetics. Iglesias himself describes his memory and representation of  Switzerland as “verde, lleno de luz, como un cuento” [green, luminous, like a fairy tale] (Iglesias, “The making”). The choice of the term ‘cuento’ (in this context, ‘fairy tale’) confirms the film’s insertion in a genealogy of Spanish film addressing the dynamics of global capital through the urban-rural divide. Specifically, Iglesias draws a link to the classic film Bienvenido Mr. Marshall (Luis García Berlanga, 1952), where a voice in-off introduces the Spanish rural village of Villar del Río as a ‘modern day fairy tale’: “Érase una vez un pueblo” [Once upon a time there was a village]. As noted by Richardson, Berlanga lampoons the dreams of overnight prosperity that official discourse saw in the dictator’s pact with Eisenhower in 1953 and ensuing ‘economic miracle’ (36). Along these lines, Un Franco, 14 Pesetas, turns to Swiss idyllic landscapes to address the inequities of Madrid’s urban growth during the same period.


Departure #3: A Car Entering the City

Madrid is the structural frame of the idyllic landscapes of Switzerland. In fact, and as Carlos Iglesias explains, the natural landscape of Switzerland ‘opened their eyes’ to Madrid’s built environment:

“Mi padre dice que los mejores años de su vida fueron los que pasó en Suiza, de 1960 a 1966. Vivir allí nos abrió los ojos y fue muy difícil encajar la vuelta” [My father says that his years in Switzerland between 1960 and 1966 were the best in his life. Living there opened our eyes, and it was very difficult to process the return] (Coucero).

Like Martín’s family, by the mid 1970s, most Spaniards in Central Europe were back in Spain undergoing a second journey –one of return. Their remittances had fueled the Spanish economy and opened opportunities for those who never had to leave. The bulk of their earnings went to the purchase of apartments in Spain’s urban centers, and particularly in the capital (Sorel 52). Aligned with this general narrative, Martín and his family return to an apartment in Madrid, and they do so by car, a symbol of consumer culture, middle-class status and transition to adulthood.[10] Yet this car, although it does mark an end to Pablo’s childhood, is in no way an expression of upward social mobility. Hence, counter to his father’s forward-gaze in a train to Switzerland six years earlier, Pablo looks back through the car’s rear window as Switzerland’s landscape dissolves into the walls of asphalt of Madrid’s crowded housing (see figures 4 and 5).


Figure 4

Figure 4.

Figure 5

Figure 5.


The journey by car leaves behind the luminosity and panoramic views of Switzerland and returns to the tilted and fragmented shots of their lives in Madrid six years earlier. Pilar, standing with her family in the terrace with no view of their newly acquired apartment, comments on the irony of such return: “En seis años hemos subido tres pisos y encima está usado” [In six years we have moved up three floors, and into a used apartment] (1:13:37).  Their only view from this terrace is onto other terraces and poorly water-washed walls (see figures 6 and 7). In short, neither the family’s return by car, nor the acquisition of an apartment in Madrid aligns with narratives of migration as upward social mobility. Rather, their move from a basement in the centric neighborhood of Argüelles to the third floor of an affordable housing unit on Madrid’s peripheries speaks to growing inequities in the capital’s recent urban history; it thus challenges the celebratory discourse of Spain’s ‘desarrollismo’ during the 1960s by turning attention to the grounded experiences of its residents.

 Following the signing of treaties between the Franco Regime and the United States in the 1950s, and its ensuing ‘economic miracle’ of the 1960s, Madrid continued to experience constant demographic growth fed through alliances among the State, finance and real estate interests, and construction

Figure 6

Figure 6.


Figure 7

Figure 7.


companies –ironically, the same formula of the financial crises of 2008, only four years after the film’s release. Through the 1960s Madrid, “immersed in outward and upward growth with the arrival of more bodies than the existing infrastructure could accommodate,” showcased over four million new dwellings (Richardson 11-15).  The voice of the narrator in the classic Spanish film La ciudad no es para mi (Pedro Lazaga, 1966) spoke to these processes:

“Madrid, capital de España: dos millones seiscientos cuarenta y siete mil doscientos cincuenta y tres habitantes. Crecimiento vegetativo: ciento veintinueve personas cada día […] y casas,  casas en construcción, montañas de casas en construcción.” [Madrid, capital of Spain: population, two million six hundred and forty-seven thousand inhabitants. Demographic growth: One hundred and twenty-nine persons per day […] and houses, houses under construction, piles of houses under construction!] (2’18”-3’ 53”).

Although the above reference inserts Un Franco, 14 Pesetas in the genealogy of Spanish films addressing migration to Spain’s capital since the 1940s, the absolute absence of Madrid’s emblematic buildings or avenues throughout the film highlights Iglesias’s priority in presenting the city as lived over its representations.

The difficulty of gaining access to housing, an outcome of the corrupt alliances between the Franco regime and the construction and real estate industries, is a key force pushing the family out of Madrid, while simultaneously impeding their social mobility. At the start of the film, desperate to leave the basement in Argüelles, and unaware that Martín had just become unemployed, Pilar makes the down payment on an apartment in the outskirts of Madrid. Her long journey by bus to the construction site illustrates the extent to which the city was spreading its reach through concessions to construction and real estate companies. Un Franco, 14 Pesetas denounces the corruption of many of these alliances, when Pilar finds out that they had lost one year of Martin’s remittances to a scam. The contrasts between the shots of Pilar’s first and last arrival at the construction site (figures 8 and 9) are a manifest critique of the contradictions between the celebratory discourses of Spain’s economic miracle, and the reality of millions of people trying to make a living in Spain’s capital. Thus, the billboard advertising the dream for a home in Pilar’s first visit to the construction site is, in a later visit, shattered at her feet, showing the cracks in the coalition between real estate and construction industries via the only two words remaining: “promueve y construye” [promote and construct]. Ultimately Pilar’s absolute refusal to return to Madrid’s underground –“Yo, al sótano, no vuelvo” [I am not returning to the basement]– is only plausible if moving to the capital’s peripheries, and most specifically, to the district of San Blas, formerly a rural area known as ‘Cerro de la Vaca’ [Cow’s Hill].

Figure 8

Figure 8.


Figure 9

Figure 9.

In fact, the territory that would become San Blas was annexed by the city in 1949 to become the focus of Madrid’s expansion to the northeast. Most tellingly, San Blas became the showcase for the solutions of the Franco Regime to rural migration to the capital since the 1940s. By the end of the 1960s it was the largest working-class neighborhood in Spain, with 10,444 apartments and 52,000 inhabitants in housing units built with low-quality materials and with limited access to services and transportation (Sánchez)[11]. Revealingly, San Blas also included in its grounds the neighborhood known as ‘Ciudad Pegaso,’ a social experiment between the Franco Regime and the leading firm ‘Pegaso,’ Martín’s employer at the start of the film. Planned on the rubrics of harmony, autarchy, and social control (Alpuente, Pegaso), this ‘model city’ was inaugurated in 1956 to house the factory workers and their families. Designed along the principles of rationalism in modernist architecture, ‘Ciudad Pegaso’ included 1,327 homes, plus schools, sports facilities, cultural centers and cinemas, all under the name ‘Pegaso’.

Research reveals patterns of migration according to which receiving countries are the destination for the people from those countries’ areas of influence (Sassen 1997). This is certainly the case for Switzerland which, between 1960-1971, was Spain’s largest foreign investor after the United States (Sorel 119). In fact, prior to becoming nationalized under the Franco Regime, Pegaso was a Swiss-Spanish corporation, and a leading maker of luxury cars. By the 1960s, it was most well-known for its trucks, but also for its ties to the three main crane specialist Spanish firms (IASA, IBESA and LUNA), all central to Madrid’s construction fever of the 1950s and 60s.

It goes without saying that Martín’s employment in Pegaso establishes the Swiss presence in Madrid prior to the protagonists’ decision to head to Switzerland. In addition, Pegaso’s branching in both the mobility and construction industries, plus its ties to the Franco Regime through the planning and construction of ‘Ciudad Pegaso,’ reveal the layers of complexity underlying human experiences of mobility, while calling for more thorough approximations to transnational migrations. As emblem of Franco’s Spain and ‘flagship’ project of the Regime´s ‘desarrollismo,’ Ciudad Pegaso and the inauguration of San Blas in 1962 received ample press coverage (Sánchez. Puebla).  Yet, the celebratory tone of the official discourse does not make its way into Iglesias’s film. Instead, Un Franco, 14 Pesetas focuses exclusively on the expression of larger-scale dynamics as lived and remembered through people’s everyday lives. Thus, official discourses surrounding San Blas –and its constitutive Ciudad Pegaso– are replaced with the physical and emotional expression of the family’s transition from the green and open landscapes of Uzwil to “unos edificios en medio de un descampao” [buildings in the middle of a dirt field], where only one small, squalid, broken tree stood (Iglesias, “The making”).  In fact, the family´s first steps upon their return to Madrid are up the narrow stairs to Pilar’s parents’ apartment in San Blas. Contrary to the official discourses on San Blas, Pablo’s healthy body ascends the narrow staircase of the rundown building, while he struggles to understand the logic behind such return: “Papá, ¿por qué hemos venido a un sitio tan feo?” [Dad, why did we come to such an ugly place?].


Arrival: One Leg for the Walk

“A ellos, a todos ellos” [to them, to all of them]

(Un Franco, 14 Pesetas, Closing dedication)


In Un Franco, 14 Pesetas the protagonists’ migration to Switzerland and back to Madrid is a journey for bodily integrity vis-à-vis circumstances that limit their access to space.  Borrowing from Urry, any journey always involves a corporeal experience of pleasure and pain (Mobilities 48). Thus, the insalubrity of their home in a basement in Madrid, crowded and dark, serves as the backdrop for the family’s decision to move to Switzerland. Six years later, their return is inseparable from the physical and emotional toll of migration, particularly on Martín’s body. He shows a persistent cough from the cold, and becomes impatient and irritable. The despair brought by Martín’s inability to arrive on time at his father’s bedside is the final and decisive factor underlying the family’s return by car to Madrid, a city with no views.  

The return to Madrid, unlike the departure to Switzerland six years earlier, is not moved by Martín and Pilar’s hope, but rather, by the resolve to work from the remains of their physical and mental health and, it follows, from their memories as lived. In this way, their journey is not a narrative of upward social mobility, but of the entanglement between memory, mobility and access to space in Madrid’s recent history.  Both metaphor and lived experience, Un Franco, 14 Pesetas is “more than a trip” to remember; it is a story about the protagonists’ determination to exercise their right to Madrid, resorting to what remains of their journey. Following their return from Uzwil, Pilar’s determination to stay in Madrid outweighs Martín and Pablo’s initial inability to understand themselves as part of the city. Martín is increasingly desperate to find employment, and Pablo is an evident outsider to a place where he did not grow up, and where society unfolds under the moral grip of a dictatorship. Nonetheless, when Martín and Pablo suggest that they return to Switzerland, Pilar states:

“De nuestro propio país no nos echará ni el calor, ni la Pegaso, ni los curas, ni esta mierda de piso que se ha llevado nuestro sudor de seis años. [….] ¡Ah! Y una cosa más: tener un abuelo cojo, no es ninguna vergüenza” [Nothing will force us out of our own country. Not the heat, not Pegaso, not the priests, and not this shitty apartment that holds our sweat from six years of work. […] Oh! And one more thing: a lame grandfather is nothing to be ashamed of!].

Upon arrival in Madrid, Pablo retreated in fear at the site of his grandfather’s missing leg, lost to a labor accident. Here, Pilar demands that Pablo move away from the shame of what could be, or what once might have been but is no longer there, to focus on the possibilities of what remains.

Pilar’s determined tone reframes memory, favoring action over a narrative of loss. Henri Lefebvre, attuned to the interrelation between body, space and memory, called for an understanding of space through the rhythms and cycles of the human body, the struggle against time, and within time itself (Richardson 23). Pilar’sPilar’s insertion of her father’s missing leg in the above statement dialogues with Lefebvre, unveiling the ties between Madrid’s spectacle of ‘desarrollismo’ and increasing appeal as a tourist destination, and the erasure –and mutilation– of the bodies that ultimately made the growth of the city possible from its peripheries and basements, and who barely had a right to the city. In her resolve, Pilar confirms these bodies, including her father’s, as part and parcel of Madrid, claiming, following Lefebvre, their right to walk its streets. Thus, in Un Franco, 14 Pesetas, Madrid is not a ‘landscape to view,’ but rather the ongoing expression of social processes.  This is most evident in the persistent absence of any of the capital’s emblematic streets or sites in the film. Pierre Nora explains modernity as the loss of milieu de mémoire (environment of memory) to lieux de mémoire (sites of memory) through the institutionalization and materialization of the past (Nora, 7). Extending this to the urban, Henri Lefebvre and others denounce the disassociation of space from the social processes that ultimately make it, resulting in cities becoming “dreamscapes of visual consumption” (Zukin 221). Madrid epitomizes these processes and yet, Un Franco, 14 Pesetas presents us with ‘a city without a view,’ as lived and imagined through the everyday lives of its residents.  No doubt, the footage of the Pegaso factory, the street views of the family’s basement in Argüelles, and the housing projects in the capital’s peripheries are not the material of Madrid’s postcards.

Furthermore, in order to identify Madrid as the spatial context of the film, the audience must rely on the dialogue between characters. Namely, there is only one mention of each of Madrid’s most emblematic streets, the Gran Vía and the Calle Alcalá. The Gran Vía, arguably the capital’s most emblematic venue, was already a desire in the collective urban imagination a decade before its construction in 1910. Its initial purpose as a transport corridor was quickly overcome by its transformation into “Madrid’s urge to architectural and cultural modernity” (Parsons 82). The Calle Alcalá is one of the capital’s oldest streets and served as one of the entries to the city via the A-2 motorway. Thus, the Gran Vía conveys the materialization of the imaginary of what Madrid longed to become; the Calle Alcalá represents its entryway. Both streets hold many of the city’s monuments, notable buildings and, not coincidentally, theatres and cinemas. Yet, in the film, neither of these streets is addressed as a ‘site’ in itself. Instead, Martín and Pilar return to these streets longing to walk in the company of others. Their ultimate purpose is, in fact, to “ver gente” [see people]. Revealingly, this affirmation marks the film’s closure. After Pilar’s call to stay in Madrid, Martín and Pablo fall silent. Yet, briefly after, they implicitly align with her call, when Martín offers to walk Madrid: “¿Quieres que paseemos por la Calle Alcalá?” [Would you like to take a walk through the Calle Alcalá?]. In the sentence that follows he jokingly contrasts the social liveliness of the Calle Alcalá to Uzwil’s empty streets in the early evening: “No veas como está de gente. Igualito que Uzwil a estas horas” [It is so full of people. Just like Uzwil at this time of day]. Pilar’s reply further reiterates that ‘people’, not the site itself, are what makes the Calle Alcalá a worthwhile destination. She asks Martín: “¿Viendo gente pasar? [to see people walking by?], to which Martín replies yet one more time, “Sí, viendo pasar gente” [Yes, to watch people pass by].

The final scenes gradually give way to the non-diegetic soundtrack of  “Rosa Venenosa” by the famous Manolo Caracol. This song is a telling sample of a Spanish cuplé, the most common genre in popular dance and music films in Spain during the 1950s and 1960s. Its inclusion confirms Iglesias’s dialogue with Spain’s filmic tradition and his focus on the everyday lives of people. Of those who, like his family, left and/or returned to Madrid, and by doing so, ultimately made it –that is, became the agents for what the city would become. Addressing the interrelation between memory, space, and human mobility, Un Franco, 14 Pesetas merges experiences across time and space, showing immigration as rooted in space, and inseparable from economic, political and social processes that are historically specific.  Iglesias presents us with a journey that is much more than ‘fiction’ and ‘much more than a trip’. Starting from the dreams for a better place –a plane in a basement– Un Franco, 14 Pesetas leads back onto Madrid’s streets on foot. Through the direct touch between their bodies and the asphalt, Martín’s family, and by extension Iglesias’s family, and many families before and many after –ellos, todos ellos– confirm their right to the city, and themselves as active subjects of its making.



[1] All translations mine.

[2] Andrés Sorel described Switzerland as one of the most hostile and dangerous destinations for Spanish migrants in Europe (133), and Joaquín Riera Ginestar denounces Switzerland for its legal impediments to immigrants’  reunification with their families (217).

[3] See also Muñoz-Sánchez; Santos.

[4] An illustrative example is the so-called Ley Castellana (1953) which offered fiscal incentives to construction and real estate companies, including tax exemptions for up to twenty years.

[5] See Richardson (2012), Rincón Díez (2013), and Balllesteros (2016). Telling examples are El pisito (Marco Ferreri, 1958), Ha llegado un ángel (Luis Lucía, 1961), and La ciudad no es para mi (Pedro Lazaga 1966).

[6] My gratitude to Charles Rice-Davis for his guidance to Jankélevitch’s work.

[7] For an analysis of ‘Heimat’ as sense of place, see also Strohschänk, Johannes and William G. Thiel (2012).

[8] See Masterson-Algar’s analysis of El tren de la memoria (Marta Arribas and Ana Pérez, 2005). This imaginary was also created and reinforced through film and mass media. The box office hits La ciudad no es para mi (Pedro Lazaga 1966) and Ha llegado un ángel (Luis Lucía, 1961) also structure their stories of migration from rural Spain to the city via the rail. Interestingly, despite the centrality of the train in Spain’s popular imagination of migrations to Central Europe, the majority of migrants, because of their undocumented status, risked their lives by taking the journey on foot and/or by bus (Sorel 22, Riera Ginestar 47).

[9] On the interrelation between the railroad and the experience of space see Urry 1995, 2007; Smets and Shannon 2010; Lauretis, Huyssen and Woodward (1980). And for the specific incidence of these perceptions on urban planning and cities, see Chiner I Mateu (2010), López (2005), Santos y Ganges (2007), Smets and Shannon (2010), Saus (2013) and Wais (1967).

[10] For the role of the car as symbol of consumer culture and middle-class status see Sorel (1974), Urry (Mobilities) and Smets and Shanon (2010). Revealingly, in the film, Tonino, an Italian immigrant to Uzwil and good friend of Martín and Marcos, describes returning to Italy with his newly purchased car, “precioso, rojo fuego, llantas blancas” [beautiful, red fire, white tires], only to find it vandalized the next morning. This experience, he explains, is the reason for his decision to settle permanently in Switzerland. 

[11] The classic Spanish film El pisito (Marco Ferreri, 1958) addresses the distance between this area and Madrid’s urban center, as the street car opens its way through flocks of sheep. This serves as one more example of Iglesias’s dialogue with a genealogy of Spanish films addressing Madrid’s growth since the 1950s.




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