Based on an original idea by Antonio Banderas, Instituto Cervantes, the cultural center and language school of the Spanish government, is sponsoring a week and a half long film series entitled El Realismo en el Cine Español (Realism in Spanish Cinema). If you would have made it to opening night, you would have had the opportunity to meet Spanish actor Banderas himself. Yet, even if you missed it, rumor has it that he will be roaming the halls of Instituto Cervantes for the rest of the series. Each night, Instituto Cervantes offers a glimpse of Spanish realism with a film showing. In terms of Spanish cinematic history, realism played a significant role in reifying the nation.
As Hollywood’s reach was spreading internationally in the mid-1940s to early 1950s, Francisco Franco’s government was attempting to create a national cinema. According to Núria Triana-Toribio in her book, Spanish National Cinema, during this period, the creation of a Spanish cinema was a deliberate project undertaken by the Franco dictatorship to strengthen the otherwise “imagined community” of the nation. She cites the establishment of various institutions as integral to this process—those with distinctive purposes, such as regulating the production of newsreels and documentaries, training Spanish filmmakers, and preserving Spanish film. On June 15, 1944, the Spanish Department of Popular Education founded a controversial prize—Declaración de Película de Interés Nacional (National Interest Prize)—for those films that best served the nation’s interest. Triana-Toribio cites Vallés in stating the criteria of those films considered for the prize—those which showcased “unequivocal examples of the exaltation of the racial values or archetypes of [Spain’s] moral and political principles.”
Nevertheless, the content and purpose of Spanish national cinema was debatable. Triana-Toribio cites Camporesi when she describes the perspective of the representation of “Spanishness” in film as “synonymous with the recovery and dissemination of the country’s intellectual traditions.” Popular in the late 1940s, historical melodramas exemplified this latter construction of the nation. Yet, it wasn’t until the early 1950s when realist cinema began to dominate as the preferred representation of Spanish life and culture. According to Triana-Toribio, not only did the Falangists—members of Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista, or the party in support of Francisco Franco—look to realism as a form of national propaganda, but left-wing parties in opposition to the regime also supported realism as a way through which to “represent the ‘truth’ about the nation from their perspective.” Yet, the regime soon began to feel anxiety over realism’s potential to portray not only the redeeming qualities of the nation, but the social ills as well. For example, co-directors Luis García Berlanga and Juan Antonio Bardem could not find a distributor for their film depicting the reality of unemployment in Spain, Esa pareja feliz (1951), until 1953. As the 1950s progressed, realist directors found a way to promote “Spanish-ness”—which, in the eyes of the regime, had become synonymous with Catholicism—in a “gentle and agreeable version” of realism eventually accepted and promoted by the Spanish government.
The series at Institute Cervantes includes work from directors such as Luis García Berlanga, Juan Antonio Bardem, Fernando Fernán Gómez, Carlos Saura, and others. For a full list of films and showtimes, please visit the Instituto Cervantes website. All films are shown in the auditorium, in Spanish with English subtitles. Admission is free, but there is limited seating. So, be sure to get there early to appreciate this significant moment in Spanish cinematic history.