Saturday, 23 March 2013

Cornerhouse Film Review: Long Holidays of 1936 – 'LAS LARGAS VACACIONES DEL 36'

ON Wednesday at the Manchester Cornerhouse cinema, during a discussion following the screening of 'Long Holidays of 1936' - a Spanish film made a year after the death of General Franco – 'El Cauldillo', it became clear that there is still much interest in the Spanish Civil War among a section of the general public. The film was shot, still under a degree of censorship in 1976, in Catalonia and represented a rural village summer retreat for the middle classes of Barcelona. It opened with a shot of a local town crier on the day of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War on the 18th, July 1936 and ended with the conquest of Barcelona by General Franco's Nationalists in January 1939.  The well attended discussion party was chaired by Carmen Herrero from the Manchester Metropolitan University, and it was made up of mostly middle-class ladies and a sprinkling of men.

The questions ranged from why the film's the dialogue in Catalan? to what was the Moorish involvement in the Spanish Civil War? Catalan, of course, was still a prohibited language in 1976 when the film was made.

There was some consternation caused when one woman, probably not so academic as some of the others, said that she had lived in Spain during the Franco era and said that the level of crime had been lower then, and that she felt safer as a woman to go out alone on the streets late at night. This of course ran counter to the tone of the gathering which was lightly-boiled liberal leftist and with lower middle-class ladies probably from south Manchester and beyond into Cheshire. Even Carmen Herrero came down on her, trying to claim that much of the crime was hidden at that time and that there were 'banditos' in the countryside and that the regime was severe in it's treatment of its opponents. 

The truth is that low level anti-social behaviour in Franco's Spain in the 1960s was probably much lower than it is today, and one probably has much more chance of getting your bag snatched in the streets now. But there were forms of crime in Spain then that were more exotic. Occasionally while I was working delivering Gas Butaño to the villages of the Cabo San Antonio in 1963-4, I learned of women being accosted but it was rare; perhaps more seriously I found out the the Municipal police had shot and wounded an English tourist in a bar in Javier on the Costa Blanca in a dispute about drinking after hours; then when we were moving to a city we were warned of dangers such as the possibility that the Gipsies may kidnap our young son if they thought we had money; meanwhile a strange ancient belief prevailed well into the 20th Century among some of the Spanish wealthy that if they bathed in the blood of a young child that it would keep them young and they were willing to pay the Gipsies to get it.

It is not easy to convince someone who is English, the extent that the fear of the Moor or 'El Moro' has in the mind of the Spaniard or Catalan. El Moro represents the bogeyman and at the beginning of the film on the 18th, July 1936, at the start of the Spanish Civil War someone shouts 'The Moors are coming!' and at the end of the film as the conquest of Franco's Nationalists of Catalonia takes place in January 1939, the screen fades with the blurred images of the turbaned Moorish horsemen riding through the Catalan countryside. To a Spaniard and a Catalan, the message would be clear that modern civilisation had taken a step backwards to something more medieval and ancient with the fall of the Spanish republic. It is because with Franco it is not the same as anticipating an efficient and disciplined modern regime as one might in Germany with Hitler and the Nazis, or in Italy with the Futurists, in Spain, with Franco, it was rather more like a return to the Dark Ages.

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