This year, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, DocumentaMadrid has put together, in collaboration with Filmoteca Española, an overview of some of the films produced since 1936 that touch on one of the events to arouse the greatest amount of interest in and outside of Spain. The series includes ten documentaries and ten fictional films set at various points in history, offering a range of perspectives on a conflict that focused the world’s attention on Spain and which, since then, has captured the interest of directors of various nationalities, including some of the biggest names in the history of film.
Of the films featured, those produced during the conflict give us an inside look at times when film was understood as a political weapon. Feature-length films like Aurora de esperanza (A. Sau Olite, 1937), Tierra de España / Spanish Earth (J. Ivens, 1937), Defenders of the Faith (R. Palmer, 1938), L´Espagna vivra (H. Cartier-Bresson, 1939) and Ispanija (E. Shub, 1939) positioned themselves on one side or the other of the conflict, and did so with the vehemence typical of the era.
The end of the war did not curb the attention aroused by this important event, which over the following decades was explored retrospectively via a broad range of styles and stances. One of the most paradigmatic films featured in the series is Por quién doblan las campañas / For Whom the Bell Tolls (S. Wood, 1943), an American movie based on the novel by war correspondent and writer Ernest Hemingway. Two other controversial films are also included: the Falangist film Rojo y negro (Carlos Arévalo, 1942), whose commercial life was abruptly cut short, giving rise to all sorts of imaginings as to the reasons for its removal from circulation; and Morir en Madrid (F. Rossif, 1962), a French film that approaches the war from the perspective of the people who were lost, which was banned in Spain until 1977. Of the films produced in Spain, Tierra de todos (A. Isasi-Isasmendi, 1962) was shot under Franco’s dictatorship and takes a conciliatory approach to the conflict. Films produced once democracy had been ushered in include La vaquilla (L. García Berlanga, 1985), La guerra de los locos (Manolo Matji, 1986), ¡Ay, Carmela! (C. Saura, 1990), Tierra y libertad (K. Loach, 1994), La hora de los valientes (A. Mercero, 1998) and La lengua de las mariposas (J. L. Cuerda, 1999), and speak to the weight that this historical event continued to possess in the cinematographic memory of the conflict nearly half a century after it began, as well as, in many cases, the favourable reception of the topic by the public.
The Civil War continues to arouse interest among new generations of filmmakers. The series places particular emphasis on documentaries produced from 2000 onwards, and includes internationally award-winning feature-length films like El Perro Negro: Stories from the Spanish Civil War (P. Forgács, 2005), Los perdedores (D. Deiback, 2007) and El honor de las injurias (C. García-Alix, 2007), as well as other interesting films including Las cajas españolas (Alberto Porlan, 2004), La batalla del Ebro (Jorge Martínez Reverte, 2007) and Héroes invisibles (Alfonso Domingo, 2014).
With this series DocumentaMadrid offers a review of the different and valuable ways in which films have approached a conflict that filmmakers from all over the world turned their cameras to, a conflict which, despite the years that have passed, continues to hold a special fascination.
Laura G. Vaquero