Nerea González |

Paris (EFE).- Build a cathedral for God, to whom he had not been able to dedicate his life as a monk. That was the mission of Justo Gallego, the man who spent 60 years single-handedly building a cathedral on the outskirts of Madrid and whose story now reaches France in the form of a documentary, just over a year after his death.

Was he a genius? Was he crazy? Was he both? Those are some of the questions that hover over “The Cathedral”, a feature film signed by the Slovak director Denis Dobrovoda and the Scottish journalist and screenwriter based in Burgos Matthew Bremner.

They both “wanted to try to tell the definitive story,” Bremner explains to EFE, of a construction that rose to fame in 2005, in an advertisement for the Aquarius beverage brand, but that many people would not know if it is something real or if it was just an advertising campaign. It is, however, only 20 kilometers from Madrid, in Mejorada del Campo.

Justo Gallego during the construction work on his chair, which will now be known in France through a documentary
Justo Gallego during the construction work on his chair in a 1988 image. EFE/Antonio Sanjurjo

«When you go there and see how big it is, it is incredible that he did it without knowing how to read. And he did it basically alone », specifies the scriptwriter of the project.

The Dobrovoda and Bremner documentary already had a great debut in 2022, at the Krakow Film Festival, where it won the award for best documentary film and was therefore shortlisted for the Oscars.

This 2023, its creators plan to show the film in the land of Justo Gallego, Spain, and throughout Latin America, but before that the film makes a stop in Biarritz, at Fipadoc, one of the great European documentary film festivals.

It all started with a visit to Spain by Dobrovoda (Bremner’s friend since university) in 2018, which ended up becoming a stay for improvised masonry work for Justo Gallego.

The Scottish journalist based in Burgos had learned of his name through loose press stories and was planning to write an article about him. But once in Mejorada del Campo, Dobrovoda, a film director, quickly became clear that there was a film there.

A recycled Vatican on the outskirts of Madrid

Convincing Justo to make a documentary was not, however, so easy. At 93 years old then, the head of this obsessive Christian -he wanted to be a monk, but was not allowed to stay in the monastery in his youth- came and went, as he himself admits in the film, and his mood swings were frequent. .

«The first week, when we were there to help him, the treatment towards us was much warmer, everything was much easier. Then when we arrived with cameras, that we had agreed with Ángel (Justo Gallego’s assistant in his last decades), it got a little more difficult and there were some clashes, “recalls Bremner.

Justo Gallego and his cathedral will be released in France in a documentary
Justo Gallego in a 2006 image. EFE/Victor Lerena/rsa

Justo Gallego lived obsessed with finishing the project to which he had dedicated his life and had already felt, to a certain extent, “betrayed” by the cameras. He envisioned the cathedral as an offering to God, but the ad that made it famous sold it as an individualistic feat to sell soft drinks.

Without that attention, however, this artisan building – built in the image of the Vatican with recycled materials and donations – would never have reached the point where it is now, still “allegal”, but in the process of being reviewed by experts and authorities who show surprised by the stability of the temple.

Justo Gallego: a “protoecologist”

“He was like a person from the Middle Ages, but that’s another contradiction. He was a very old-fashioned person in his way of seeing the world, but he was also very modern in many other ways. In other words, the fact that he built the cathedral out of recycled materials… he was like a proto-ecologist so to speak, without knowing it”, says the screenwriter of “The Cathedral”.

Justo Gallego passed away at the end of 2021, shortly after the end of filming this documentary, and his building was left in the custody of Ángel, his faithful assistant, and the NGO Messengers of Peace.

Detail of the interior of the "Cathedral" of Mejorada del Campo, in a 2006 image. This cathedral by Justo Gallego will be known in France in a documentary
Detail of the interior of the “Cathedral” of Mejorada del Campo, in an image from 2006 EFE/Victor Lerena

For Bremner, despite the disappearance of Justo, the project is in “good hands” and will continue, although its existence is inseparable from the history of its creator.

«He had the energy and tenacity to continue building and, yes, I think it does make him a genius. But also to have that impulse and that impetus to be able to build something as extravagant as the cathedral, you have to be a bit crazy, I think, “summarizes the Scottish journalist.

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