The Segovian landscape as a site of memory ...
... in the controversial Cousin Angelica.
Guerín’s episode in The Challenges links neo-feudalism with violence.
In Erice’s episode in The Challenges a monkey presides over a Castilian abandoned village, where animal brutality and chaos reign.
Castile under Falangist rule in Spirit of the Beehive.
Spirit of the Beehive: Ana (Ana Torrent) and her sister Isabel (Isabel Tellería) ...
... are dwarfed by the landscape.
As Ricardo Franco, the director of Pascual Duarte has commented, "The desolate environment in which the violence takes places was as important as the violence itself" (Lázaro et al, 1976: 104).
Elisa, My Life: murder outside an isolated Segovian farmhouse, where ...
... Elisa (Geraldine Chaplin) re-enacts the role of the murder victim.
Exploring the mystical Basque landscape in The South.
José Luis López as the urban outsider in Speak, Little Mute.
Speak, Little Mute: The Cantabrian mountains, which are veiled in mist, are inaccessible to the urban gaze.
Real-life teenage delinquents in disguise in Fast, Fast.
In-between spaces, in-between identities.
In transition: the Spanish economy depicted simultaneously as rural and industrial.
In Alou’s Letters, the horizon offers the utopian promise of the first world.
Mondays in the Sun: The ex-shipbuilders Santa (Javier Bardem) and José (Luis Tosar) remain afloat in a boat they have commandeered. Unmoored from a fixed geographical point, their positioning articulates their social displacement.
Close To Your Eyes investigates human rights issues through the eyes of a journalist, played by the actress Isabel Verdú.
By the end of 1967, government subsidies were cut, and possibilities for artistic filmmaking in Spain became scarce. Nevertheless, Elías Querejeta continued to produce artistically ambitious films. In subsequent years, the producer’s success was largely due to his tenacious managerial style, which chiefly involved providing a false script for the censors but using another, more politically subversive script for the actual shooting. As his films from the late 1960s onwards were increasingly met with acclaim in international film festivals, censors had to begrudgingly accept the final version of a film. After all, to seriously impede Querejeta’s creative vision would be seen by Franco’s image-conscious technocrats as disastrous for Spain’s cultural standing abroad.
As his international success as a producer grew, so too did his reputation as a risk-taker and a polemicist. Saura’s second collaboration with Querejeta, Peppermint Frappé (1968) was supposed to premiere at Cannes in May 1968. At the beginning of the screening, however, the producer took to the stage with a microphone to demonstrate his support for the strikers and to denounce Robert Favre Le Bret, the president of the festival. Meanwhile, Carlos Saura and Geraldine Chaplin, the star of the film, were joined by Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, who halted the screening by climbing up the cinema curtain and dangling from it.[open endnotes in new window] As the director Roman Polanksi has recently recalled, “They were hanging off it like grapes” (Grey: 2008).
However, it was the Querejeta/Saura collaboration La prima Angélica/ Cousin Angelica, Spain’s official entry for Cannes in 1973, which would prove by far the most controversial of all his productions. At the festival, news broke out that four masked teenagers had attempted to steal reels of the film from a projection booth during one of its Madrid screenings. Unable to fit the reels into their bags, they fled with just twelve metres of the film. The Spanish right-wing press were outraged by an infamous scene in which a Falangist soldier is represented with his right arm in a cast, thereby locking his body in a permanent fascist salute. Despite mounting pressure from the government to cut the scene and public protests boycott the film, Querejeta steadfastly refused to compromise, stating publicly.
The ongoing conflict culminated in July 1974 when a screening of the film in Barcelona was firebombed by fascists.
Although this was Querejeta’s most explicitly anti-Francoist film, the overall look and tone of Cousin Angelica typified his productions of this period. The film centers on the journey of its protagonist, Luis Cano (José Luis López Vázquez) as he travels to the provincial town of Segovia to bury his mother within the family cemetery plot. In the middle of his journey, he stops and gets out of the car and looks at the Castilian landscape. The surrounding geography reminds Luis of the journey he took as a child in 1936, the year the Spanish Civil War broke out, to visit his Nationalist-supporting grandmother. As the war progressed, it would become too dangerous for the young Luis leave the town, so he was forced to remain with his fascist relatives. As in Cousin Angelica, intersections between the trauma of violence, memory and the landscape are a constant theme throughout several Querejeta’s productions of this period. Meager budgets and production offices in Madrid meant that the majority of his productions (excluding co-productions, a total of fourteen out of nineteen feature-length films between the years 1967 and 1979) were shot in the surrounding region of Castile. The rural landscape of this region consists predominantly of the meseta, the vast and arid plateau that makes up a third of Spain’s surface area. Although collaborating with a number of different directors, the recurring backdrop of the flat Castilian landscape lends a degree of visual unity to his productions of the 1970s. The sharply delineated textures of the rough land and the sheer weight and volume of the buildings were thrown into relief by the painterly, chiaroscuro cinematography of Luis Cuadrado, and from 1975, of Teo Escamilla.
That the geography of the meseta, in particular, should be symbolically associated with violence is not coincidental. Over the centuries, this iconic landscape has emerged as the timeless, spiritual center of the nation, a marker of authentic Spanishness. It follows that Castile and agrarian life were fundamental to Francoist mythmaking. During the early years of Spanish fascism, the regime believed that “people would be saved from the divisive evils of progress and returned to their ‘oneness’ with nature” (Labanyi, 1989: 38). The peasants who most embodied the values of National Catholicism were those from Castile, whom Franco eulogized as the moral backbone of the nation. As the historian Juan Andrés Blanco Rodríguez has pointed out, Franco attributed to the Castilian peasant the virtues required of each and every Spaniard—hardiness, honesty and austerity—and they exemplified the Spanish caste at its purest (1998: 368-369). However, Franco’s Castilian idyll would bear witness to violence and social deprivation. In order to return the people to nature, he subjected the peasants to a “repressive system of agricultural labour,” where they were compelled to work the soil under the most brutal of conditions (Sevilla-Guzmán, 1976: 103). Behind the privileged space of Castile, therefore, lay a regime of violence which concealed itself under the guise of “la España eternal,” erasing the historical specificities of a starving, war-torn nation through the creation of a mythical geography. Vast and spare, the meseta served as the ideal tabula rasa on which Franco could reconstruct a great, unified Spain, in which regional differences such as Basque, Gallician and Catalan were elided.
In response, Querejeta’s productions during this period sought to expose the violence behind Franco’s mythical geography of Spain. Of these films, Los desafíos/ The Challenges (Claudio Guerín, José Luis Egea, Víctor Erice, 1969), El espíritu de la colmena/ Spirit of the Beehive (Víctor Erice, 1973) and Pascual Duarte (Ricardo Franco, 1976) most explicitly expose the brutality of peasant life on the meseta. Consisting of three different episodes by three different directors, The Challenges stands out as one of Querejeta’s most experimental projects to date. In each section, the arrival of an U.S. tourist (played by Dean Selmier in each part) not only brings into focus the repressive mores of Francoist Spain but also leaves a trail of shocking violence in the tourist’s wake. On the film’s representation of violence, Guerín, one of the directors, remarked that “it is hidden in the environment” and that it could “irrupt at any moment” (Torres, 1969: 46). In the second episode of the film, for instance, the idealized myth of the Castilian country folk is shattered. The representation of a subjugated peasant, Benito, (Fernando Sánchez Polack) and his family exploited by their smooth-talking, neo-feudal landowner (Alfredo Mayo) clearly struck a nerve with the censors, who demanded that the scenes in which the peasant family were mistreated be removed (Hernández Les, 1986: 175).
The landscape is one of the most enduring images of Spirit of the Beehive, the most critically celebrated Querejeta production to date. Set in post-war 1940s Spain, the film centres on Ana (Ana Torrent), a young girl with a vivid imagination. On meeting a Republican fugitive, she believes him to be Frankenstein’s monster. Kovács has written of the film’s many images of “claustrophobic enclosure and imprisonment” where human figures appear dwarfed by “the emptiness of the space and the vastness of the silence” (1991: 31). While the opening credits show the words, “Once upon a time … Somewhere on the Castilian meseta in the 1940s,” a camera focuses on a wall on which the Falangist yoke and arrows are painted, the symbol of the Spanish Fascist party. Although a village marker, “Hoyuelos,” indicates the precise setting for the film, the words of the opening credits serve to generalize the location, as if to suggest that the village was like any other Castilian village in the 1940s—that is, under the iron fist of Franco. The producer was so fascinated by the village that he himself returned to Hoyuelos some years later in 1977 to direct an observational documentary of its people, although that film was never released.
Of all the films, the meseta finds its most violent expression in Pascual Duarte. Here Pascual Duarte, an illiterate peasant, goes on a killing spree and is sentenced to death by garrotte. As his violent acts appear unmotivated, we are asked to look elsewhere for clues. Frequently framed in long shots and extreme-long shots, the surrounding environment is key to understanding his descent into violence. According to Faulkner, the film’s hostile representation of rural space is used to “debunk the Francoist myth of nature and, by implication, attack the entire ideology of the regime” (2004: 58).
The majority of Querejeta’s collaborations with Carlos Saura were also filmed in Castille during this period. In common with his other productions, they clearly evoke a strong sense of place. In Peppermint frappé and Cousin Angelica, for instance, the provincial towns of Cuenca and Segovia are presented as asphyxiating and static. Both films centre on a middle-aged, sexually repressed man (played in both cases by José Luis López Vázquez) whose neuroses and prejudices arise from the influence of his oppressive surroundings. In Elisa, vida mía/ Elisa, My Life (1977) and Los ojos vendados/ Blindfolded Eyes (1978), urban outsiders seek tranquillity in the meseta, only to find that it is a site of violence. In the former, Elisa (Geraldine Chaplin) visits her elderly father Luis (Fernando Rey), who for the last twenty years has lived alone in the country. The field near his house, however, is haunted with memories of a woman whom he found murdered mysteriously several years ago. Precisely the same stretch of landscape provides a dramatic backdrop for Fascist torture in Blindfolded Eyes. In this film, Geraldine Chaplin plays an actress called Emilia, who performs the role of Inés, a woman who has been tortured by the Argentine state. While performing the play, she speaks of her relief as the terrorists released her from the car into the middle of the countryside. The play within the play/film allegorizes Spain’s Franco era. Thus, a cutaway to the meseta evokes the composition of Wyeth’s painting Cristina’s World, with Chaplin’s emaciated body captured in the same position as that of the disabled figure Christina.
Other directors working with Querejeta during this period also drew on the powerful symbolism of Castile. The controversial documentary El desencanto/ The Disenchantment (Jaime Chávarri, 1976) centers on the family of Leopoldo Panero, the regime’s official poet, in the wake of his sudden death some fourteen years earlier. His pastoral poetry contrasts with the social reality of Astorga, the town in which they lived, which is wracked by parochial hypocrisy and hatred. In Las palabras de Max/ Max’s Words (Emilio Martínez-Lázaro, 1978), a divorced academic, Max (Ignacio Fernández de Castro) travels with his teenage daughter (played by Gracia Querejeta, the producer’s daughter) to a villa in the Castilian countryside, where the location serves to underscore the father’s psychological and emotional isolation.
Although the majority of Querejeta’s productions during the 1970s made use of Castile to convey their anti-Francoist messages, the film Habla, mudita/ Speak, Little Mute (Gutiérrez Aragón, 1973) stands out as a departure from this politicized style of filmmaking. Its release also signals the beginnings of a trend in Spanish film that explores the wilderness of the Northern regions of Spain. Speak, Little Mute and the later Feroz/ Fierce (also directed by Gutiérrez Aragón in 1984) are set in the wet, mountainous region of Cantabria. Taking his lead, other directors under Querejeta also turn to the Northern wilderness for inspiration: El sur/ The South (Víctor Erice, 1983) and Tasio (Montxo Armendárix, 1984) exploits the vistas of the breathtaking green forests and valleys of the Basque country and Navarre respectively.
If the Spanish miracle years of the 1960s were shaped by accelerated economic growth, urbanization and prosperity, the period between 1973 and 1984 was marked by recession, environmental crisis and a subsequent process of counter-urbanization. The slump in economic growth was a result of the 1973 Oil Crisis, which had a particularly severe effect on Spain. As its economy was more reliant on external factors than most, the repercussions of the crisis were more intensely felt (Lawlor and Rigby, 1998: 101). This crisis led to far-reaching social and spatial changes. The city, which during the 1960s was emblematic of progress and modernization, became for many in the 1970s an ugly symbol of unrestrained capitalism and unemployment. Moreover, the shortage of petroleum prompted Western nations to reassess their consumption habits, which in turn generated an increased awareness of the natural environment. The journalist Pedro Costa Morata demonstrates that Spain was no exception to this rule, nothing that 1973 was the year in which Spanish environmentalism gained momentum (1985: 171). In this context, therefore, it is perhaps not coincidental that several Spanish filmmakers turned to the rural for inspiration.
The problematic relation between the rural and the urban provides the focus of both Speak, Little Mute and Fierce. In the former, this tension arises between Ramiro (José Luis López Vázquez) a middle-age linguist from Madrid, and the residents of a Cantabrian village in which he spends his holidays. In the latter, Luis (Fernando Fernán Gómez), a psychologist who is on holiday in the country, finds a local boy who has been transformed into a bear. He captures the boy and takes him back to the city, where the psychologist attempts to “civilize” the bear so that the boy/bear may become a human once again. Through the use of poetic visual language, the wilderness of Northern Spain in both films is represented as a mysteriously remote terrain, positioned beyond the reach of its urban visitors. The use camera movement conveys this eloquently. Extreme long shots, together with the horizontal panning and vertical tilting of the camera, mould a sublime vision of nature that is both inaccessible and limitless. In seeking to separate the urban and the rural both spatially and symbolically, the films articulate an anxiety towards both the ecological fallout of industrialization and the demise of Spanish rural life.
Tasio similarly expresses a need to preserve the rural landscape. Rather than focusing on man’s alienation from nature, however, this film captures the experience of rural life from the perspective of those who dwell there. It centers on the life experiences of Tasio, one of the last remaining charcoal burners in Navarre, who as his friends and family all eventually migrate to the city, stays alone in his village. As foregrounded in the film’s promotional tagline, “a hymn to freedom,” the protagonist throughout remains free from the pervasive structures of modern capitalism, an aspect which particularly appealed to Querejeta (Gurruchaga, 1984: n.p.).
From the 1980s onwards, Querejeta’s filmmaking realigned itself with profound industrial and political changes. The removal of censorship in 1977 along with Spain’s long-awaited transition to democracy in 1982 inevitably altered both the style and general concerns of his films. Indeed, no longer the enfant terrible of the film industry, Querejeta’s work now became part of the establishment: feted by the new socialist government, the PSOE, he would consistently receive generous subsidies for his productions. However, this did not mean that the political resistance that underpinned his earlier work would lose momentum. The struggle that he once articulated against Francoist ideology would now be directed towards Spain’s embrace of free-market capitalism—or, more specifically, to support those that have been left behind in its wake. Without the strictures of censorship, Querejeta’s ethical vision could now be openly expressed through a more social realist style of filmmaking. This shift in style, moreover, brought with it a general shift in emphasis from rural to urban spaces. As such, Querejeta’s productions during this period sought to enunciate the social reality of Spain from the geographical speaking position of those who have been marginalized by an urbanized country.
The first of these films was Deprisa, deprisa/ Fast, Fast (Carlos Saura, 1980), which centers on a gang of migrant delinquents who roam around the fringes of Madrid, stealing cars and robbing banks. Neither rural nor urban, neither adults nor children, the delinquents’ in-between identity is reflected in their marginal location on the periphery of the city. In their search for authenticity, Saura and Querejeta cast real-life delinquents for the roles of the teenagers. Ironically, the fictional trajectory of the protagonist, Pablo (José Antonio Valdelomar), would turn out to anticipate events in the actor’s real life. Three weeks before the premiere of Fast, Fast, Valdelomar was arrested for robbing a bank on the outskirts of Madrid (Anon, 1981: 27). As a result, the actor could not attend the premiere of his own film since he was serving a prison sentence. In an interview, Querejeta has stressed his social engagement with juvenile delinquency and interest in the causes behind this issue (Hernández Les. 1986: 88).
This interest would also go on to yield several later productions like Fast, Fast that would explore the relationship between the social and the spatial. 27 Horas/ 27 Hours (Montxo Armendáriz, 1987), for instance, follows the lives of two teenage junkies in San Sebastián, a city then afflicted with mass unemployment. The film’s tight, hermetic framing works to dislocate the characters from their surroundings and emphasizes the solipsistic nature of their heroin abuse, while the washed-out, glacial hues of grey and blue reflect the emotional coldness the youth encounter in their families and personal lives. Teenage life would also provide the focal point for Armendáriz’s next collaboration with Querejeta, Historias del Kronen/ Stories of the Kronen (1995), which depicts the ennui of a group of privileged, upper-middle class students one summer in Madrid. As Fouz-Hernández has pointed out, the space of the city at night becomes a major ground for youth resistance in the film (2000). Barrio (Fernando León, 1998), which focuses on younger teenagers, is also set in Madrid. The city in this film is one of static, exclusionary borders that further marginalize the young characters. As in Deprisa, deprisa, these films reveal the extent to which social identities are constituted and shaped by their surroundings.
In recent years, Querejeta has also focused his attention on issues beyond the national borders of Spain. For instance, El úlimo viaje de Robert Rylands/The Last Journey of Robert Rylands (directed by his daughter, Gracia Querejeta, 1996) is a psychological drama set entirely in Oxford, while Cuernos de espuma/ Shampoo Horns (Manuel Toledano, 1998) is a fictionalized account of the drag queen nightclub scene in New York. With Jaime Corcuera’s hard-hitting documentaries La espalda del mundo/ The Back of the World (2000) and the Invierno en Bagdad/ Winter in Baghdad (2004), the producer has continued to back projects which center on the marginalized and the dispossessed, but on a global scale. While La espalda del mundo examines child labour in Peru, the death penalty in the United States, and political refugees in Sweden, Invierno en Bagdad provides an exposé of the atrocities committed in the recent Iraq War. In narrating other geographical spaces, these films arguably seek to widen the horizons of Elías Querejeta as a producer.
If these productions all seek to represent the global over the local, Los lunes al sol/ Mondays in the Sun (Fernando León, 2002) and Las cartas de Alou/ Alou’s Letters (Montxo Armendáriz, 1990) demonstrate how the local is affected by the global. Addressing the growing Spanish social problems of male unemployment and illegal immigration respectively, the films point to globalization as their cause. In Mondays in the Sun, Santa (Javier Bardem) plays an unemployed shipbuilder who angrily protests against a global, post-industrial economy through which Spain imports foreign ships and, in the process, makes indigenous workers redundant. But while the nation readily promotes capital’s unfettered mobility, it pointedly does not encourage the free movement of immigrants. This is borne out in Alou’s Letters, in which a picaresque narrative follows Alou (Mulie Jarju), an illegal Senegalese immigrant, in constant search of work and shelter. The protagonists in each film, Santa and Alou, dream of other places: Santa fantasises about living in Australia, while Alou dreams of finding an utopian Spain that will integrate him into society. The tension between fantasy and reality is evoked in Alfredo Mayo’s cinematography, whose warm, sunlit palette in both films provides a contrast to the protagonists’ dismal material surroundings.
Despite his age, Elías Querejeta tirelessly continues to make a significant impact on the Spanish film industry. This was borne out in April 2008, when Querejeta was awarded a lifetime achievement award—the latest of a long line—at the San Sebastián Festival of Cinema and Human Rights. There, he was commended for his courageous and socially committed method of filmmaking that has consistently spoken out against injustice (Montero, 2008). Inspired by his award, Querejeta went on to make his debut as director the following year with the documentary Cerca de tus ojos/ Close To Your Eyes (2009), a film that observes the many breaches of human rights which are committed throughout the world. Although the producer has always remained tight-lipped about future projects, he will undoubtedly continue to support young Spanish directors and to promote cinema as a force of visual truth. As I have shown, to trace the history of Querejeta’s productions is to trace the history of modern Spain. And this history, we have seen, has been dependent on constant geographical transformation. From the idyllic rural backwaters of Next Autumn to the global flows of Mondays in the Sun, the recurrent emphasis on Spanish landscape in his work has consistently provided a means of political resistance.