HOT DOCS FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Miguel Ángel Blanca Pachón’s Magaluf Ghost Town isn’t your typical documentary. Tracing the impact of tourism on an idyllic Spanish island through a series of carefully captured vignettes (and potential reenactments), it refuses to be easily categorized. The poetic shots are composed a bit too carefully; the narrative feels too structured; the featured personalities are a little too defined. All this makes the film resemble a docu-drama, a throwback to cinema vérité. This ambiguity does not hinder the writer and director’s vision in any way. In fact, it adds to the mysterious, melancholic allure that permeates the narrative.
Located on the island of Mallorca, the town of Magaluf has been a popular tourist destination since the 1980s, and tourism is the “sole driving force behind its economy.” Every summer, a storm of borderline-monstrous, booze and drug-fueled belligerence descends upon the island, trashing it in its wake. The British even nicknamed it Shagaluf, for reasons the filmmaker graphically depicts via hypnotic footage of nude tourists frolicking in dark ocean waters or a couple f***ing on the beach to the cheers of dozens of observers.
“…the town of Magaluf has been a popular tourist destination since the 1980s…”
Against the backdrop of this tsunami of tourism, several storylines of Magaluf’s residents are carefully threaded. An elderly woman – the heart and soul of Magaluf Ghost Town – hosts a young man, becoming a surrogate mother to him in the process. A Russian real estate agent struggles to sell land. A young resident actor auditions by rapping shirtless. He and his boyfriend plan to open a club. “Can you imagine being a tourist all year round?” he wonders as he chain-smokes.
And then there are the smaller moments. A guy interrupts an interview abrasively, wanting to display his butt tattoo. A bouncer teaches another bouncer how to swindle idiot tourists out of money. A woman gets hypnotized to quit smoking. It might be staged, but it is all so enthralling.
Pachón masterfully layers those intimate sequences in-between the big ones, creating an exhilarating portrait of a paradise tainted by a “don’t give a fu*k” generation encroaching upon a place rooted in tradition. Tourists litter and burn and fu*k and destroy. No wonder the planet’s going to hell. Ghosts haunt, quite literally, the characters of Magaluf Ghost Town, and it’s a thrill to be haunted with them.
Magaluf Ghost Town screened at the 2021 Hot Docs Film Festival.
"…masterfully layers those intimate sequences in-between the big ones..."