Las Hurdes. Tierra sin pan (Land Without Bread), 1933 – Luis Buñuel

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Title: Las Hurdes. Tierra sin pan (Land Without Bread)
Year: 1933
Runtime: 28 m.
Director: Luis Buñuel
Writer: Luis Buñuel, Rafael Sanchez Ventura, and Pierre Unik (André Breton)
Plot: Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (1933) is a 27-minute-long documentary (ethnofiction?) directed by Luis Buñuel and co-produced by Buñuel and Ramóo Acíi. The script was by Luis Buñuel, Rafael Sanchez Ventura, and Pierre Unik (André Breton), with cinematography by Eli Lotar. The film focuses on the impoverished inhabitants of Las Hurdes region of Spain, the mountainous area around the isolated town of La Alberca whose inhabitants were were so poor that bread was unknown. One of their main sources of income was taking in orphan children in return for a government subsidy. Buñuel made the film after reading Maurice Legendre’s ethnographic 1927 study Las Jurdes: étude de géographie humaine. The result was a surrealist travelogue in which the narrator’s exaggerated descriptions of human misery of Las Hurdes contrasts with his flat and disinterested manner. Buñuel claimed: "I was able to film Las Hurdes thanks to Ramon Acin, an anarchist painter, activist and boyhood friend from Huesca. One day at a cafe in Zaragoza he said, 'Luis, if I ever won the lottery, I would put up the money for you to make a film.' He did in fact win the Xmas lottery in 1932, a hundred thousand pesetas, of which he gave me twenty thousand to make the film. I bought a second-hand Fiat for four thousand. We needed it to carry our equipment around the rugged terrain to the mostly inaccessible locations. Even so, you still had to walk several kilometers every morning. Pierre Unik [André Breton] came, under contract from Vogue to write an article, and Eli Lotar came too, with a camera loaned by Marc Allegret." The film parodies the exaggerated contemporary documentary of travellers crossing the Sahara. Buñuel's point being, one of them at least, was that there were more than enough terrible subjects in Spain for a documentary without travelling to Africa. The film was originally silent, though Buñuel himself did the voice-over when it was first shown. The French narration. by actor Abel Jacquin, was added in Paris in 1935. For the soundtrack Buñuel used extracts of Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 4. During the making of Las Hurdes, Buñuel slaughtered at least two animals. One Hurdano claimed he arranged for an ailing donkey to be covered with honey so he could film it being stung to death by bees. Similarly, his crew shot a mountain goat that subsequently fell or was pushed from a cliff in another sequence. The film provoked such an uproar in Spain it was banned from 1933 to 1936. Inspired by an anthropological study by Legendre, director of the French Institute of Madrid, the result was a free version of the text, a descent into Spain’s forgotten regions. The 27-minute film offers a crude portrait of a poor region, of desperate men and women surviving in an almost medieval village. For years before the film was made, the name Las Hurdes had appeared regularly in the national press. King Alfonso XIIII visited the region twice accompanied by journalists and photographers. To Ethnologists and anthropologists it was an ideal subject for study. The magazine ‘Estampa’ published a series of reports that included powerful images of hunger and desolation. Dr Gregorio Marañón, the noted Spanish intellectual, toured the region with Legendre recording his impressions in moving detail in his travel notebook: «We arrived at Martilandrán at 11: misery, anaemia, goitre, cretinism. A horrendous, Dantesque spectacle. Many of its occupants have never eaten bread. Some spend days without eating anything more than herbs and turnips. Everyone has thyroid abnormalities, trachoma, tuberculosis. Hunger is rampant The priest tells us that there are plenty of sodomites in the town... He talks about polygamy and corpses that remain in the village for days. Miguel de Unamuno’s, another of Spain’s intellectuals observes: "The problem of the Hurdes? It is nothing more than the general problem of the distribution of property in Spain. The hurdano prefers freedom in the majesty of his poverty or living on alms than having to be a day labourer sleeping on a master's floor”. The year it premiered, 1936, Acín had been jailed on a number of occasions due to his militancy. An artist with a reputation and the founder of one of the country’s most outspoken radical and anti-militarist newspapers, La Ira, banned in 1913 after two issues when, during the suicidal Moroccan war, it called for desertion and mass refusal to join the army. La Ira’s subtitle was: "Organ of expression of disgust and anger of the people." Acín’s end was tragic. In Huesca in July 1936, as soon as the news of the military rebellion broke, the people clamoured for weapons, but the republican government, fearful of losing control over a people in arms refused to comply. Huesca’s republican politicians reassured Acín, a CNT union leader and prominent figure in the antifascist resistance, that everything was under control and the local troops were loyal. There was no chance of the coup succeeding. In less than 24 hours, however, the city fell into the hands of Franco’s army. Acín, with a price was on his head, hid for over a month waiting for the inevitable. When the soldiers finally came they beat his wife mercilessly until an anguished Acin emerged and surrendered voluntarily, believing it would save the life of his wife Conchita Monras. It was not to be. The following day he was shot against the wall of Huesca cemetery; Conchita was murdered a few weeks later. Ramón Acín and Conchita’s two orphaned daughters, children of anarchists and social outcasts, were left to fend for themselves, coping with misery, hunger and all the tribulations Franco’s clerical-fascist society could throw at them. Bunuel, however, kept his promise to Avin and made contact with the daughters, returning to them the 20,000 pesetas loaned to him by their father to make “Las Hurdas. Tierra Sin Pan”.

IMDB Rating: 7.5
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