Nuvol, March 22, 2022

Museum of the History of Catalonia. Wednesday, March 9th. The film Pioneers (University Women of the Second Republic), written and directed by Lala Gomà Presas, is being screened. The room is packed. All ages are present. Many women. A long-thought-out project was reaching its culmination: sharing with the public the memory that daughters and sons hold of their mothers, women who, in the 1930s, entered the University of Barcelona.

The idea for the film, explains the director, stems from the desire to give voice to the courage and tenacity of women who did not give in to the conventions of the time and pursued the life they wanted before, during and after the civil war with the devastating hurricane of misfortunes that unleashed.

Daughters and sons who give voice to those women who broke the dominant social molds and enrolled in university are now 70 years old. They have come to the screening in the company of their own sons and daughters, who see the images of their grandmothers and even great-grandmothers drawn on the screen in an unexpected way.

Unexpectedly, because the memory of a family of their ancestors is not the same as the combined vision of the memories that keep of a historical moment diverse people that the film has allowed them to connect.

The filmed conversation is chaired by Elisa Sales, who has reached the age of 106, recalling that if the war had not ended her career, she would have liked to teach. She had to live in exile. Her presence in the film, her story and the clarity and poise with which she tells it, authenticate all the others.

The memories that mothers had left behind in what are now grandparents - and who now sit in the museum auditorium with their daughters and granddaughters - come from the screen to the seating chart tinged with those indelible impressions of childhood. The audience listens to some girls and boys that the film has managed to awaken and generates a dialogue as soon as the screening is over.

The death of 104-year-old Eulàlia Presas, the director's mother, was the source of the project. There is no doubt that deserved a tribute this woman who, without ever forgetting the functions that were supposed to be her as a woman, which were neither few nor simple, translated Plato into Catalan on behalf of the Bernat Metge Foundation — thanks to her we are no longer talking about the Banquet but the Invitation - in addition to major works of English literature such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. I would also like to add that she retired as a non-tenured teacher because she did not want to be subjected to the exams that changed the status of high school teachers into civil servants.

I was lucky enough to meet her at the Joanot Martorell Institute where she taught Latin and I taught Philosophy. I had known her for many years because she was a friend of my mother, Dolors José, who was also included in the film Pioneers. But working with her allowed me to broaden my professional expectations in a notorious way.

My mother did not have to defend her desire to go to University with my grandfather because he wanted her to be free and to make a living from her job — even though he enrolled her in Pharmacy, which offered a secure future for her but she, a few days after starting the course, moved by her quiet but determined disposition, transferred her file to the Faculty of Humanities and studied classical languages.

The discussion that followed the screening made it clear, once and again, that it is very difficult to grow without references and that the models of women who are strong and committed to their time are indispensable. It was clear to everybody in the auditorium the parallels between the lives of the Catalan pioneers of the 1930s and the lives that Ukrainian women are facing today, and like so many others, who seek refuge somewhere to survive, as if life could repeatedly return to zero.

So, thank you very much Lala Gomà for daring to make a film out of desire and from the conviction that there is no excuse to stop doing what is perceived as fair and necessary.

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