Civil War in spanish film


Civil War in spanish film
   The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and its long aftermath has been a recurring topic in Spanish cinema and, at some stages, it became a thematic core around which many important films were built: representing the war, living with its sequels, disappearing, surviving, hiding, and remembering it seemed to dominate filmmakers' imaginations.
   The best fiction film shot during the event was Andre Malraux' Sierra de Teruel. L'Espoir / Hope (1939), about a group of heroic soldiers resisting the advance of Francisco Franco's troops, but it was an unusual effort produced partly in French studios. Leaving aside documentary and semi-documentary work, the first wave of Civil War features came right after the event, during the 1940s, in a cycle known as "cine de cruzada" or "crusading cinema," designed to show tales of heroism and patriotism during the conflict. There was a refusal to engage with the reasons for the war (one must remember that in its beginnings, it was just another coup d'etat), and the emphasis was on its glorious ending. Examples are the Italian co-production Sin novedad en el Alcázar (The Siege of the Alcazar, Augusto Genina, 1940) and Raza (Race, José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, 1942). These films were sentimental, earnest, patriotic, and profoundly ideological—their idea of Spain is traditional and limited. Still, the subject was a difficult one, and not really encouraged. Indeed, from 1943, there was a ban on films centered on the Spanish Civil War, whether they were positive or not. Not only that: there were very few films dealing with war in general in the first decade after Franco's victory.
   After the end of World War II, with a changing international situation in which Spain had no allies, Spanish filmmakers seemed to forget about the Civil War, and it was clear that the authorities were not interested in opening old wounds. The official version, the only one that could be represented, was plainly unsatisfactory even for those artists who were faithful to the regime, thus allowing very little room for narrative maneuvering. Clearly, an event of such seismic importance cannot be easily ignored, and the shadow of the confrontation of "two Spains" (or rather two ideas of what Spain should be: a progressive modern nation, on the one hand, or the traditional religious paradise promoted by Franco) was cast upon some of the key films of Francoism even when nothing was said about the conflict. It appears symbolically as a cave with corpses in La caza (The Hunt, 1966), where explicit references were forbidden by the censors, and as the unnamed cause of wounds affecting characters in El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive, Víctor Erice, 1973). Actually, Erice's film marks a turning point in the treatment of the Civil War. Rather than a political event, it became a ghostly memory, haunting characters until the Transition brings about the conditions for this issue to be dealt with directly. Carlos Saura's Cria cuervos (Raise Ravens, 1975) and La prima Angélica (Cousin Angelica, 1977) are examples of this approach, and its impact is felt throughout Borau's Furtivos (Poachers, 1975). Even a tame, sentimental film such as La Guerra de papá (Dad's War, Antonio Mercero, 1977) gestures toward a not-so-glorious past.
   The need to talk about the war explodes with the Transition, and for 20 years the Civil War and its sequels dominated Spanish cinema. In many instances, rage replaced the sad regret that had tinged previous approaches. It was now the time for losers to tell their part of the story, and they did so with a vengeance. With new legislation aiming to encourage "quality" filmmaking, there was a widespread impression that by "quality" one meant "period films" (and literary adaptations, of course), and the postwar had became the period of choice in which to set a number of melodramas. Films by leading directors like Libertarias (Freedom Fighters, Vicente Aranda, 1993), La vaquilla (The Heifer, Luis G. Berlanga, 1984), ¡Ay Carmela! (Carlos Saura, 1990), and El espinazo del diablo (The Devil's Backbone, Guillermo del Toro, 2001) are among the most remarkable in trying to engage with the event in original ways.
   The postwar period received particular attention as it provided opportunities for nostalgia and historical document. Films like La colmena (The Beehive, Mario Camus, 1982), Demonios en el jardín (Demons in the Garden, Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, 1982), Si te dicen que caí (If They Tell You I Fell, Vicente Aranda, 1989), Madregilda (Mother-Gilda, Francisco Regueiro, 1995), El viaje a ninguna parte (The Trip to Nowhere, Fernando Fernán Gómez, 1987), Tiempo de silencio (A Time of Silence, Vicente Aranda, 1986), and Tiovivo c. 1950 (Merry Go Round, c. 1950, José Luis Garci, 2005) present a grim picture of the 1940s, where the memory of the war filled everyday experience. In other cases, the war was treated as a wound that could still be felt in Spanish society. Features such as Sonámbulos (Sleepwalkers, Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, 1978) and Asignatura pendiente (Pending Subject, José Luis Garci, 1977) adopted this approach. Although filmmakers from the young Spanish cinema generation of the mid-1990s are less interested in the Civil War, the vitality of the topic is underlined by a recent hit like El laberinto del fauno (Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro, 2007), a fantasy film that can be read as a metaphor of the wounds inflicted by the conflict.
   See also Censorship.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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