Were appalled when those above us dont share – but theres always somebody below, too, says director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

When Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia began shooting his latest film in Bilbao almost two years ago, the Spanish director felt the themes of his low-budget, dystopian horror feature would be sufficiently universal to resonate with audiences around the world. Today, however, many are claiming that El Hoyo known in English as The Platform is the perfect parable for life in the time of the coronavirus and a visceral investigation of how a crisis can expose not only the stratification of human society but also the immutable strands of selfishness coded into our DNA.

The parallels are certainly not hard to find. The Platform is set in a forbidding vertical self-management centre a soaring series of concrete cells stacked one on top of the other, each holding two inmates. Every day, the eponymous platform, stacked with a lavish but finite supply of food and drink, descends, level by level.

Those on each floor are free to decide how much they eat and how much they leave for those on the hundreds of levels beneath them. If they gorge themselves, they will starve those below; if they try to hoard food, the temperature in their cell will rise or fall fatally.

While Gaztelu-Urrutia is delighted by the films growing audience on Netflix, he is as surprised by its freshly minted relevance as anyone else. Its an allegory about the distribution of wealth, which is a universal debate and a debate thats been going on for as long as people have been around, he told the Guardian.

Galder
Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia on set during the shooting of El Hoyo (The Platform).

But I remember when we were showing it at a film festival in Toronto last year, people were saying, Shit! Historically speaking, this is the ideal moment to be showing a film like this because the differences between those who have the most and those who have the least have never been as great as they are now. And Id say, Well actually its always the perfect time to be screening a film like The Platform because weve always been living through at a time when these differences are so stark.

But the director, who describes himself as basically very pessimistic about us as a species, acknowledges that the pandemic and the films presence on one of the worlds largest streaming platforms have given the movie a new lease of life. With the new showing on Netflix, its suddenly become very topical again because of the current situation, he said. If, instead of putting food on the platform, wed made it face masks or toilet paper or ventilators, wed be having exactly the same debate.

The other week, added Gaztelu-Urrutia, he was listening to Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, lament that US states were engaged in a bidding war for ventilators. Thats exactly what happens in The Platform, he said.

Galder
Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia during the shooting of El Hoyo (The Platform). Photograph: El Hoyo/PR

When things take a turn for the worse and we get squeezed a bit, we become very, very selfish and start stockpiling everything we can, just in case. We dont realise that that kind of greed means a lot of other people have to go without.

Although Gaztelu-Urrutia stresses that the film which began life as a theatre piece contains instantly recognisable universal themes, it doesnt hide its Spanish roots. If there are occasional echoes of films such as High Rise, and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, there are also pointed nods to Luis Buuels The Exterminating Angel. A copy of Don Quixote features heavily, as do the issues of imprisonment and free will explored in Pedro Caldern de la Barcas seminal Golden Age play Life is a Dream.

At its heart, though, it is a film with an uncomfortable message. The point of The Platform is that it isnt about a war between those above and those below we all have someone above us and someone below us, he said.

Its all very well, Gaztelu-Urrutia added, to demand action from the politicians and multibillionaires so many floors above, but their response or lack of it cannot be used to absolve us of individual responsibility. You can look above you and think that the people up there should be doing much more, but then you look down and see there are many levels below yours, he said. The question is: what am I going to do from where I am to fight this selfish structure that runs throughout our society and species?

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