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Thursday, 21 November 2013

The ferocity and frailty of war

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

21 November

97 = S : 17 / A : 16 / C : 17 / M : 15 / P : 16 / F : 16

A rating and review of Land and Freedom (1995)

S = script

A = acting

C = cinematography

M = music

P = pacing

F = feel

9 = mid-point of scale (all scored out of 17, 17 x 6 = 102)

* Contains spoilers *

This film, set relatively early in the Spanish Civil War, not only has some gorgeous music by George Fenton, which only momentarily attracts one’s attention when it should not, but some very good acting and scripting. Director Ken Loach, working with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, fills the screen with the immediacy of faces, and, at the times when David Carr (Ian Hurt) is part of the militia (POUM), immerses one in the vibrancy of that life and comradeship.

Loach also puts a distance on it, by the medium of (what turns out to be) David’s granddaughter Kim reading the letters that he sent back from the front, with a deliberate alienation that he is somehow able to send back photographs of those alongside whom he is fighting – despite never seeing a camera, one might come up with an explanation where he gets films developed on leave, but it seems wiser to infer that Loach intends it symbolically.

The effect of those photos being looked through puts the events that are being so vividly shown, and with such a colour palette, back into history as ‘old photos’, along with the folded press clippings : unless we can stop and think, clearly the latter had not been sent with the former, but have ended up together as a subjective account along with (in the newspaper) a supposedly objective one.

Hurt is never better than when his voice is heard reading his letters aloud as Kim looks at them, and the images from abroad. On screen, probably deliberately, he seems a shadow of what we hear, which makes him perfect to be afloat in a world of politics and coalitions that are convenient only for a time – there may be a film that does not leave one confused about the rights and wrongs of the situation, of which Eyes on the Sky and The Forest are but two, and in need of a reliable history*, but Loach captures the incomprehension of people who find themselves on opposite sides.

The scene around the table in the town in Aragon that has been liberated is telling : Loach has the local people at the centre of the scene, but, at the margins, three pondering shots of members of the militia in civvies and casting glances, or speaking quietly, to each other. Before they are invited into the discussion, this makes it look like a mistake that they have been given nothing to add, but, afterwards, they make quite clear that they have views, the differences in which feed into the succeeding action.

Add to this guilt, the horrors of war and of retribution, a love story (Blanca, full of conviction, well played by Rosana Pastor), and needless death, and there is a powerful film, which maintains its pace, and does not deliver short on how divided those united against the fascists were. Loach, although he is known for left-wing inclinations, pulls no punches on that account.


* Before the screening at Cambridge Film Festival, curator of the Catalan series, Ramon Lamarca, helped alleviate some difficulty regarding the anti-fascists and the International Brigade, whereas the husband whose family is at the centre of things is, although a conservative, not for that a fascist. The town shown being captured, which may be Mirambel or Morella (whose people are thanked in the credits), appeared to be the local town in the Catalan film.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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