Sci-Fi Catalan Style

Fourteen-year-old Alba goes swimming in her local lake. Whilst ducking her head beneath the water, she is barely aware that the world is being devastated by an unknown force.  She emerges in time to see strange oval objects glimmering in the sky. They are shooting towards the village that she calls home.

Alone with one other survivor, Didac, Alba returns to a scene of devastation. Buildings have collapsed in on themselves. Walls have fallen into ruins. Rubble blocks the roads. Every human being has perished, slumped on the floor, behind the wheels of their cars, or buried beneath the wreckage of their homes. All mammalian life has similarly been exterminated: the corpses of donkeys, cows, pigs and rabbits litter the farmyard. The only remaining signs of life are the chickens that roost around them, and the flies that buzz greedily around the eyes and mouths of the dead.

Thus begins Mecanoscrit del segon origin by Manuel de Pedrolo (1974). It is a classic work of Catalan fiction, playing the same role for Catalan readers as The Lord of the Files does for those in Britain. It is the first adult book that many children read: my own copy has two names marked in the cover, one in biro, the other in pencil. Many children can recite its opening line  and refrain by heart: “L’Alba, una noia de catorze anys, verge i bruna…”

Not only is it a dystopian fantasy, it also carries a second message as well. The book is written in fragments, which are all that remains of an original text from some distant time. Alba’s story has become the Urtext of the catastrophe’s survivors, the beginning of a new chapter in humanity’s existence. The very name Alba means ‘dawn’, and it is de Pedrolo’s way of mischievously reimagining the world as one where Catalan has become the lingua franca.

If the book had been written in English, it would certainly have  been made into a film by now and enjoyed worldwide renown. Fortunately, however, the Catalan film industry is enjoying something of a boom at the moment. A film version of the novel will appear in cinemas soon, with the English title Second Origin, at least according to the IMDB website.

This is wonderful news, for formerly foreign filmmakers have shied away from science fiction. This no doubt owing to its high costs and the difficulty of competing with the quality of American special effects.  The film of Mecanoscrit del segon origen comes hot on the heels of another Catalan-Spanish science-fiction movie, Eva (2011). Starring Daniel Brühl (of Goodbye Lenin and Inglorious Basterds fame), it explores robotics and the relationship between creator and creation.  Eva is beautifully shot and very well acted, which all bodes well for Second Origin when it finally appears.

It is good news to see that the Star Wars films are not the only science fiction movies that will be available with subtitles in the 21st century!

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