José Luis Castro de Paz, Professor of the Universidade de Santaigo de Compostela end member of the Grupo de Estudos Audiovisuais coordinates the film series Life in the Shadows. Spanish Cinema in a Labyrinth (1939–1953), hosted by the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid and developed from 28th April to 27th May.
This film series, organised in conjunction with the exhibition Campo Cerrado. Spanish Art 1939–1953, focuses on post-war Spanish cinema, moving beyond the clichés that have buried it for a number of decades to present a dark yet fascinating filmic and historical labyrinth displaying conflicts, searches and objectives from the main narratives in a melancholic period, wounded and confrontational period.
The dictatorial regime organised film production in a diametrical opposite to the Republican period as it developed a system of economic autarchy and staunch ideological censorship. Nevertheless, contrary to widespread assertions, it also searched for continuity in the cultural traditions that had been put in place during the Second Republic. The new State failed, however, in its aim to construct “fascist” cinema on account of the disparity of conflicting views, thus demonstrated in the differences between long-standing conservatism in Raza (Race), by José Luis Sáenz de Heredia (1942), and the Falangist and Eisensteinian modernity of Rojo y negro (Red and Black), by Carlos Arévalo (1942). It would also err in its attempts to remove the folkloric and popular substrata which, despite fierce opposition by those who saw such elements as an abominable Popular Front-esque inheritance, managed to remain and was depicted in the work of director Edgar Neville – a pragmatic and measured cultural opposition with authentic and subversive titles like Verbena (Madrid Carnival, 1941), La torre de los siete jorobados (The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks, 1944) and the Solanesque Domingo de carnaval (Carnival Sunday, 1945).
Despite the darkness of the period, comedy would become the most common genre. Drawing influences from the modern and absurd humour found in the magazine La Codorniz (founded in 1941 by Miguel Mihura), this decade’s filmography was predominated by a decidedly reflexive and meta-cinematic volition, expounding the difficulty facing fiction when it came to addressing the dark reality that had begun after the Civil War.
Dissidents in their own way, the films by the so-called “reformists” (Jose Antonio Nieves Conde, director of the transcendental Surcos (Furrows) in 1951; Arturo Ruiz-Castillo and Manuel Mur Oti) and the “tellurics” (Carlos Serrano de Osma, Lorenzo Llobet-Gràcia y Enrique Gómez), demonstrated a pronounced social concern and a striking “aesthetic commitment” – with European and avant-garde roots yet also strongly influenced by Hollywood – in addition to profound psychoanalytical concerns, conveying harrowing discourses about the life and times and the destructive consequences.
The irreparable loss of the loved object, often portrayed by a murdered, forbidden or missing woman, the ensuing melancholy and even madness and the narrative junctions that were customarily employed at the time can be read as metaphors of a devastated country, inhabited by sombre memories which carried an uncontrollable guilt complex. Thus, sadness, destruction and historical solitude became lucid “wounds of desire”.
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