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Spanish History Through Film

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Spanish History Through Film
Final Paper
Transition of Spanish Film During and After Franco Censorship It may not be clear in 2015 when traveling to Spain but this is a country that has had one of the most troubled histories and some argue that problems from it are still going on today. The largest problem that Spain has had to deal with from its past is the legacy of the Spanish Civil War and the Dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. The Spanish Civil was was fought between the Republicans who wanted more of a democratic state, and the Nationalists who favored Fascism. Because of the beliefs of the nationalists they drew much needed support from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy which gave them a large advantage. The war began in 1936 and concluded in 1939 with the victory by the nationalists and their leader Francisco Franco. Following the war Franco got rid of the republic system of government that was in place and instituted a dictatorship that he held until his death in 1975. While the civil war was over, there were still many citizens of Spain that did not support Franco and the dictatorship, but if they were to speak out against the regime there were harsh consequences that sometimes included death. One of the ways many people tried to express their rejection of the regime was through various art forms which included, literature, paintings and films. Since citizens could not overtly talk about the regime they were able to use symbols and metaphors to illustrate their opinion. While this may seem like it was easy, it was actually very challenging because the regime implemented strict censorship controls. The purpose for this was so the dictatorship would always look good as well as everything that it supported, most importantly the Catholic Church, big business, and the military. This censorship is extremely important when looking at the Spanish film industry. One film that is extremely interesting to look at when talking about the censorship law in Spain is Muerte de un Ciclista. It was a film created during the rule of the dictatorship in 1955 by a wealthy republican family. Through the use of symbols the director is able to speak out against the regime but had to work within the rules of censorship. Following the Franco regime many films were created that depicted the two sides that fought in the civil war and one of the most well known examples of this is the film La Lengua de los Mariposas. Released in 1999 the film depicts both republicans and nationalists and their ideals. The film depicts life during the second republic before the war and shows how Spain could have been. La Lengua de los Mariposas gives the viewer a strong sense that the republicans were better people through the use of a teacher and a child. While this film was not made during the reign of the regime it shows how the Spanish film industry has changed since the death of Franco in 1975. Before looking at how the films used symbols to express their displeasure with the regime and illustrate the division in Spain it is important to understand the censorship that was put in place by Franco and its impact. In Spain, like all countries, there have always been forms of censorship concerning what information gets released to the general public. During the reign of General Franco the idea of censorship was taken to a completely new level that was not seen before in the countries history. The reason why censorship was so important was because Franco was the leader of a dictatorship and there could be no portrayal of the regime as bad, even though many people knew it was. There were a number of key things that were censored by the regime but none more important than anything that went against the teaching of the catholic church or things that contained different political beliefs. As Dr Jordi Cornella Detrell writes, “The regime promoted the very catholic nature of Spain”. The people that were in charge of the censorship for Franco were directly appointed by him and there views aligned with the regime. As Raquel Merino and Rosa Rabadan write, “Members of the pro-Franco political party, the Falange, and the most fundamentalist members of the clergy became willing censors who protected Spaniards from “contamination” by “dangerous products”, weather Spanish of foreign in origin.” One thing that Merino and Rabadan note in their paper is that there was no official guideline of what would and would not be censored by the regime. Many of the decisions were case by case which made it very difficult to get things past the dictatorship. It is important to note that the reason why people complied with these censorships that were created by the regime was because the punishment if you didn't cooperate would be prison or even death. As the regime went on it instilled an actual law called the Press Law on 1967. The law broke down the bureaucracy of the previous censorship under the dictatorship and instituted a form a self censorship. The way it did this was by fining anyone that released anything that the regime would not approve of and because nobody wanted to get fined they only released things that fell in line with the beliefs of the regime. This actually created a long lasting effect that was able to be seen even after the years of dictatorship into the 1980’s. The impact that censorship had on the film industry was massive. Many topics were off limits and directors had to find creative ways to get their point across. One film where this is very evident in in Muerte de un Ciclista, directed by Juan Antonio Bardem. It won an award at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival but its underlying message is was makes the film so unique. The film was different for its time period as Felicia Feaster writes in her review that, “Unlike the dominant cinema of the day, Bardem veered away from the militarist, costume dramas and literary adaptations preferred during Francisco Franco's dictatorship.” The film was important because it depicted Spanish society at the time and the flaws that were in it. Muerte de un Ciclesta, Death of a Cyclist in English, is a black and white film that shows the secret relationship of Maria and Juan. The reason why it is a secret is because Maria is married and she was having an affair with Juan. At the beginning of the film it the couple is returning from a weekend together when Maria hits a cyclist with her car and kills him. Because she is cheating on her husband with Juan they do not help to try and save the cyclist because she does not want to get caught with Juan. While the plot for the film is the two main characters trying to cover up the murder and avoid getting in trouble there are hidden messages that director Juan Antonio Bardem puts in the film that reference the regime and the displeasure for it. As the film goes on two main characters are worried that they are going to get caught for their crime, but Juan decides to turn himself in before that could ever happen. He convinces Maria to do the same but she has a change of heart and while Juan is outside of the car smoking she runs over him with her car. On her way home she encounters a biker on a dark road and to avoid him she has to swerve but ends of driving off a bridge and dying. The reason this scene is important is because it was the direct result of the self censorship that the Franco regime had in place and it will be examined later in the paper. Before getting to the end of the film it is necessary to examine the symbols at the beginning of the film that concern the regime. One of the most obvious symbols that goes against the regime and its beliefs in the Death of a Cyclist is the ongoing affair between Maria and Juan. Bardem choses do show Maria cheating on her husband because it goes against the teachings of the Catholic Church. This alone is enough to anger the regime but Maria also thought about leaving her husband near the end of the film. This would entail getting a divorce, another idea that both the regime and the Catholic Church did not support. The regime was anti-divorce to the point that many women who got divorced during the second republic were forced back with their husbands by the regime when Franco came into power. At the end of the film it is interpreted that both of these characters died because of this but that was only because it was forced into the film by the censorship of the regime. One point that is interesting to note is that that Juan and Maria, because of their social status, may have never been caught for their crime and Bardem uses this fact to point out one of the biggest problems with Spanish Society at the time. Given that Juan and Maria were of the wealthy class in Madrid they seemed to act above the law. They ran away from their crime and Juan was promoted in his job just because his relationship to his superiors. This in contrast to the dead cyclists family who had a hard time just getting by with he basic needs in life. Bardem used this contrast to point out what was going on in Spain at the time. He was connecting it to the corruption and greed of the Franco regime and while they lived well many people throughout the country were forced to suffer. Another problem that Bardem points out in Spanish society through the film is the role of women. Under the regime the main role of women was to take care of the household and essentially be a caregiver to the family. In the film Bardem shows a female student in of of Juan’s classes and she is the only girl in the class. When she gets up on the board to discuss the problems she is solving Juan dismisses here without even letting her finish even though she was doing it correctly. Juan tells that girl that she was going to fail anyway, which is a reference to the powers that are higher up than him in the education system no promoting the education of women. If women were educated then they could not do the role in the household that the Franco regime wanted them to. At the end of the film Juan ends up siding with the female student which is Bardem’s way of advocating for women rights. The final important scene that comes at the end of the film is when Maria dies when her car swerves off of a bridge as she attempts to avoid a cyclist. Originally this scene was supposed to have Maria committing suicide after she ran over Juan with her car. Under the censorship of the the Franco regime this scene had to be changed to make it look like her death was an accident. The reason why the film could not show suicide in 1955, much like the affair, is that it was not something that was supported by the Catholic Church. This is the largest influence that the censorship during the Franco regime had on Muerte de un Ciclesta. It is clear that Bardem’s film was largely impacted by the regime but he did manage to get key criticisms of the regime and society across. Following the end of the dictatorship films began to be made in a much more open fashion especially during La Movida period. These films included many references to drugs and sex. Other films were also made which depicted the regime and the Spanish Civil War and a negative light which would have never been seen during the dictatorship. An example of a film like this is La Lengua de los Mariposas. The Tongue of the Butterfly was released in 1999 which meant that it didn't fall under the harsh censorship of the Franco dictatorship. In the film the director José Luis Cuerda shows the life of a young boy growing up in Spain before the civil war. Throughout the film the main character has many trials and tribulations but the most interesting part of the film is how the director depicts the nationalists and republicans. It is clear that Moncho, his family, and the teacher represent the republicans or who Vincenç Navarro would call the “good guys”. The teacher is the most obvious representation of the republic because of his mindset and ideals. He is a very free speaking teacher and this was one of the main characteristics of the Second Republic in Spain. They way he wants the kids to explore the world on their own as the best form of teaching is indicative of this. Another key moment that shows he represents the republicans is when he gives the clue that religion is not taught in his school anymore. This is key because during the Second Republic there was a separation of Church and state. A scene like this would never be allowed under the censorship of Franco. There is also another key reason why this film would not have been allowed under the franco regime and that is because how the film makes us feel. Cuerda does an extremely good job in the film of making the viewer connect with the boy and the teacher. The reason why this is important is because inadvertently the viewer connects with the republicans and their ideals. Cureda shows images that represent the nationalists and they always seem to be negative. An example of this is when the civil guards come by the party that Moncho and his family are having outside. They dampen the mood and the scene eventually ends. The end of the movie is when the viewer connects most with the republicans and it is almost a fact that this scene would have had to be changed under the Franco regime. Near the end of the film the nationalists come invade the town the Moncho and his family are living and and they capture all of the supporters of the republic. For safety Moncho and his family pretend to be nationalists supports which gives the viewer mixed feelings because on one had you are happy but at the same time you are mad that they is supporting the other side. The most important part is when the teacher is captured by the nationalists and put into the back of a truck to be taken away, most likely to a prison or to be killed. Since Cuerda makes the viewer connect with the teacher this is one of the hardest moments in the movie to watch. What makes this movie so interesting is that this scene may have actually been supported by the regime because it was a republican being taken away but the movie as a whole would not have been. Cuerda is clever in this way and that is what makes Lengua de los Mariposas so interesting. It is clear that much has changed in the Spanish film every since the end of the civil war in 1939. For 40 years while General Francisco Franco ruled the country many forms of art especially film underwent strict forms of censorship before they could be released to the public or entered into any kind of film competition. It has only been within the last 30 years that Spanish film makers have been allowed to make films of their choice. It was clear that the directors had a lot of topics being held back during which was seen during the events of La Movida. It will be interesting to see how Spanish film changes going forward because there are 40 years of history that the country has to make up for and film is one of the easiest way to depict the rocky past.


Detrell, Jordi. "Censorship under Franco's Dictatorship Still Casts a Shadow over Literature in Spain." News and Events, Bangor University. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.

Feaster, Felicia. "Death of a Cyclist." Turner Classic Movies. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.

Muerte De Un Ciclista. Dir. Juan Antonio Bardem. Connoisseur Films, Ltd., 1955.

Navarro, Vicenç. “La Transición no ha terminado.” Público. 18 Nov. 2010. Web. 21 Sept. 2012.
Rabadan, Rosa, and Raquel Merino. "Censored Translations in Franco's Spain: The TRACE Project - Theatre and Fiction (English-Spanish)." Censored Translations in Franco's Spain: The TRACE Project - Theatre and Fiction (English-Spanish). N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.

[ 1 ]. Navarro refers to the republicans as the “good guys” because they stood up for the right thing when looking back at history.

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...institutions, industries, and federal government are concentrated in this rapidly growing metropolitan area. The people of the Philippines are called Filipinos. Most Filipinos are of Malay descent. Filipinos of mixed descent (through various combinations of Malay, Chinese, and Spanish intermarriage) have traditionally formed the country’s elite in business and politics. Nearly 83 million people live in the Philippines. The republic has one of the highest population-growth rates in the world. About 40 percent of the population lives in poverty while a wealthy minority holds most political power. The official languages are English and Filipino (formerly spelled Pilipino), which is based on the indigenous Tagalog language. More than 80 other indigenous languages and dialects are also spoken, and the people of the Philippines are divided into regional ethno linguistic groups. The Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in Asia, a result of its colonization by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. Muslims, often called Moros, live predominantly in the southern islands and form a small but significant religious minority. The first Spanish settlement was established in the Philippines in 1565, marking the onset of Spanish colonial rule. The Spanish-American War ended in 1898 with the transfer of the Philippines to United States control. In 1946, after more than 300 years under foreign rule, the Philippines became an independent democratic republic. In 1972......

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