Although Barcelona is a very recurrent setting in the world of cinema, there is one director who has managed to capture its essence on screen in a very personal way: the Catalan filmmaker Cesc Gay. His films, with their realistic and emotionally charged style, have not only left their mark on the film scene, but also invite us to discover the most authentic corners of Barcelona.
Cesc Gay knows how to make the most of Barcelona’s characteristic architecture to bring his stories to life. His stories are so intimate and personal that they immerse you in the daily life of the city and allow you to create a bond with the protagonists. Who can resist discovering Barcelona with such an exceptional guide?
Exploring intimate Barcelona
A good starting point for exploring Cesc Gay’s Barcelona is the Hospital del Mar, located on the Barceloneta seafront. This well-known location also marks the beginning of one of his most outstanding films, “V.O.S.” (2009). Barceloneta, an old seaside neighbourhood, retains all its charm, despite the fact that its beach is often one of the most crowded. Walking through its narrow streets is like walking into Naples or Sicily, which makes it the perfect place to enjoy the authentic Mediterranean atmosphere, ideal for enjoying tapas in the Market Square, savouring a delicious seafood paella or paying tribute to the legendary comedian Pepe Rubianes, whose name adorns one of the streets in this neighbourhood.
Barceloneta beach at sunset / Turisme de Barcelona
Ciutat Vella, a neighbourhood with cinematic charisma
Without a doubt, Ciutat Vella is the most emblematic area of Barcelona. It is made up of the Barceloneta, Raval, Gothic and Sant Pere neighbourhoods. Cesc Gay takes us to the Parc de la Ciutadella – where we see Laura (Anna Castillo) and Álex (Ricardo Darín) chatting in “Stories Not to Be Told” (2022) – and the famous Rambla de Barcelona that you will recognise from the film “En la ciudad” (2023). Here you can enjoy one of the small pleasures of spending a few days in Barcelona, such as immersing yourself in the most up-to-date atmosphere, shopping or having a drink with friends, all surrounded by historic buildings such as the Basilica of Santa María del Mar, the renovated Santa Caterina Market or the magnificent Palau de la Música, where Sofía (María Pujalte) and Andrés (Jordi Sànchez) attend a concert in the film “In the City”.
Parc de la Ciutadella /Tourism of Barcelona
Scene from “Stories Not to Be Told” / Barcelona Film Commission
It’s hard to resist the romantic ambience of the cobbled streets at sunset. Intimate corners abound here, with the Plaza de Felipe Neri being perhaps the most famous, although it competes fiercely with the Mural del Beso. In addition, there are other places that go unnoticed, but are equally special, such as the Plaza de San Agustín or the Plaça dels Traginers. On the other hand, on the small Paseo del Born you can immerse yourself in the nightlife, like Carlos (Antonio de la Torre) and Ana (María León) from “Stories Not to Be Told” at the Marula Café, an ideal place to enjoy live music. And to round off the night, the lively Plaza Real awaits you with venues such as the Jamboree and Sidecar.
Scene from “Stories Not to Be Told”/ Barcelona Film Commission
Cosmopolitan Barcelona: Raval and Poble Sec
Across the Rambla is another neighbourhood where Cesc Gay’s stories take place, the Raval. It is an eclectic neighbourhood of contrasts and home to some of the best modern art in Barcelona. The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) that we see in the film “In the City” is a reference point for urban art, very close to the Raval’s great museum, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA). To get the pulse of the alternative scene in this neighbourhood, nothing beats the Rambla del Raval, home to Fernando Botero’s much-photographed sculpture of the Cat. The magic of these streets is that they alternate grocery shops with the most fashionable shops. You’ll find the century-old bar Marsella, famous for being the place where the bohemian modernists used to drink absinthe. And if you find this place full, there are more centenary references that are well worth a visit, such as Casa Almirall or the London Bar, another of the classics of live music.
The most cosmopolitan part of the city / Spain Film Commission
Paral-lel is the city’s theatre promenade and the gateway to the Poble Sec neighbourhood, a small redoubt of old flats and narrow streets, impregnated with the atmosphere of El Molino, the city’s most famous cabaret. Here the protagonists of “In the City” go to the Teatre Lliure, although you can choose between the Teatro Apolo, the Teatro Victoria or the Teatro Condal, to name but a few of the most important. Don’t be alarmed, it’s not all drama here. Carrer Blai, the neighbourhood’s central axis, is an ideal place to have a few wines and tapas, before heading to the Barts or Apolo concert halls where you can enjoy the best live music.
The beach is not just for summer
Another distinctive feature of Cesc Gay’s films is their close relationship with the sea, something very representative of life in Barcelona. On Bogatell beach, which appears in “V.O.S”, or in Barceloneta, the setting for “In the City”, we can see the characters in his films enjoying the beach.
In “Kràmpack” (2000), filmed between Castelldefels and Sitges, we see the young protagonists Nico (Jordi Vilches) and Dani (Fernando Ramallo), summering on its beaches. Also worth mentioning are the locations of “V.O.S”, which has scenes filmed in the nearby towns of Montgat, El Masnou and Arenys de Mar. These options offer the opportunity to enjoy the coastal atmosphere, just a few minutes away by train, and in a less crowded environment than in the city.
Other places you will fall in love with
It’s true that Cesc Gay likes to portray the atmosphere of the city centre, but in his films there are nods to the whole city, as when we see Luis Tosar and Ricardo Darín on a bench in Turó Park in “A gun in each hand” (2012). And Barcelona never runs out of things to do: do you know the Hospital de Sant Pau or the Palau Güell? These are two examples of modernism that are not as well known as the Sagrada Familia or La Pedrera, but are just as fascinating, as are the Casa de les Punxes or the Torre Bellesguard, so don’t hesitate to take a stroll around these off-the-beaten-path places to enjoy Barcelona beyond the classic tourist circuits.
Interior of the Hospital Sant Pau / Tourism of Barcelona
When you’ve had enough of modernisme, you can look for more active experiences. See if you’re interested in some of the free exhibitions at the CaixaForum on Montjuïc or the Palau Robert on Passeig de Gràcia. And to round off your getaway, head up to the new Mirador Glòries, where you’ll enjoy an unforgettable panoramic view before bidding farewell to the city.
Torre Glòries / Glòries Tower
Undoubtedly, Barcelona doesn’t just enchant Cesc Gay, but anyone who visits it. This lively and cosmopolitan city always offers us a new version to rediscover it. Without a doubt, the work of the Catalonia Film Commission, the office that facilitates the filming of between 800 and 1,000 audiovisual productions every year, means that, for a screen tourist like you, a trip to the city of Barcelona can become an experience in itself.
By Víctor Cervello
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