One of the highlights of ¡Viva! this year, El Mundo sigue is a film made in the early 1960s and then suppressed, only re-emerging in a restoration in 2015. As such, it serves as a form of commentary on the censorship under Franco and therefore as a useful indicator of what La transición had to achieve in the liberation of Spanish cinema. The screening was introduced by Stuart Green from the University of Leeds who also led a post-screening discussion.
Stuart explained that the film suffered from attention by the censors and was re-edited after completion in 1963 in the hope of getting a higher classification (i.e. a licence for wider distribution) but even so its release in 1965 was restricted to a handful of screenings outside Madrid. This was particularly damaging since the narrative focuses on the working class district in Madrid that became the centre for ‘La Movida’ fifteen years later. We watched the restoration screened from a DVD which unfortunately degraded the image in the long shots but medium shots and close-ups were fine. The restoration in 2015 was marked by a short documentary, El mundo sigue: La resurreción de una obra maestra del cine español which I think must be included on the Spanish DVD/Blu-ray.
El Mundo sigue is an adaptation of a 1960 novel by Juan Antonio de Zunzunegui, a distinguished Spanish writer known for ‘social criticism’. It offers a melodrama about a working-class family in which the two grown up daughters are at each other’s throats. Eloísa, the older sister, is a former beauty queen of the neighbourhood who has made an unfortunate marriage to a wastrel, a waiter at a local bar-café. Over the course of the narrative she has to find enough money to feed three young children since her husband wastes his tips and meagre wages on the weekly football ‘pools’. By contrast, her younger sister Luisita ‘progresses’ from a job in an up-market fashion shop into a glamorous life with a string of ‘sugar daddies’ – rich businessmen who buy her expensive gifts. Whenever Elo and Luisita meet at their parents apartment there are fireworks. Their father is a local police officer, their brother a pious young man who left a seminary and their mother struggles each day to feed the family.
The film was directed by Fernando Fernán Gómez (1921-2007), one of the towering figures of Spanish theatre and film as both actor and director. Here he also takes on the key role of Faustino the waiter and husband of Elo. His role is both similar and very different to his lead in That Happy Couple (Spain 1951), another attempt to get round the censors and critique Franco’s Spanish society that was made by Juan Antonio Bardem and Luis García Berlanga. Gómez approaches his film using neo-realism and developing its melodrama possibilities. The opening of the film involves a close-up of the driver’s seat and dashboard of an expensive car – this will also be the last shot of a film which is all one long flashback. The opening shot of that flashback is an observational, documentary long shot of a fruit and vegetable market. When the shot cuts to a location seemingly round the corner, we know immediately that although we are still ‘on the street’, we are now following the worn-down mother of a family, struggling back to her apartment with something for lunch. The apartment on the second floor of a tenement building is relatively spacious and at the rear there is an open terrace. There is space, but not much money to enjoy and exploit the space available. A similar terrace re-appears later in Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1987).
Neo-realism was popular as an aesthetic for several Spanish directors during the Franco era. The censors monitored the import of films, sometimes cutting scenes from those they allowed in. Italy as a Catholic country offered narratives about recognisable communities though they must have been cut because of the sexual content. Neo-realism also offered the ‘look’ of the prestige art films that Spanish authorities would have liked to have seen emulated by Spanish filmmakers at festivals like Cannes and Venice (though such films, like Bunuel’s Viridiana (1961), were sometimes not then released in Spain). Italian neo-realism was often open to melodrama and there are several scenes in which the performances are ‘excessive’ – Luisita and Elo fight and have to be kept apart. In other parts of the film, Gómez uses various expressionistic devices such as noir lighting and a montage of nighttime images. Running at just over two hours, the film is always engaging and watchable. The real question is what offended the fascist censors? What kind of social critique is being made?
During the screening, I thought of two other films from roughly the same time period, which although quite different in some ways did share some of the same themes and plot points. The first is Visconti’s Rocco and his Brothers (Italy-France 1960) which sees a similar family group in Milan and the contrasting fortunes of five sons, one of whom prompts moral concerns about his behaviour which causes pain for his mother. The second is John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965) in which Julie Christie had her breakout role as the middle-class girl who is destroyed by celebrity. I wondered what was ‘absent’ in the Spanish film compared to the other two. In Rocco, the working-class family is in a community (of migrants from the South) in which community and church are important and in which skilled factory employment and eventually unions and politics will become two further structures. In Franco’s Madrid of 1963/5 the Church seems surprisingly absent and, worse still, the pious and ineffectual son in the family is a weak character whose religiosity is mocked. There are no real jobs for women, only as servants or cleaners or shopgirls. Faustino’s job has little structure and father is a state employee in a lowly position. Eloísa is a sad figure, fulfilling a role in the Francoist state of having babies. Luisita is the only one with aspirations but these have been diverted into a form of prostitution and an engagement with the new world of consumerism which is only available to the rich and which is evident in clothes and American cars. I suspect if cuts were made they removed something that explains Luisita’s sudden move into this world. She leaves home after one of her fights with Elo and is suddenly in a modern apartment with a Dansette and a pile of pop records. Stuart Green suggested that scenes were also cut depicting Faustino and Elo in bed together. This despite the fact that they are husband and wife. The ‘freedom’ and consumerism of the young and especially young women in 1965, just prior to Swingin’ London is at the heart of Darling. But Diana Scott (Julie Christie), although she is ‘punished’ for her immoral behaviour has, in modern parlance, ‘agency’. She becomes a celebrity as herself. The clothes she wears and the image she projects are for her pleasure, not as markers of her kept status.
In El Mundo sigue, the absence of those supportive, collective structures for the working-class family is to some extent countered by the presence of the playwright turned theatre critic. Here is a family friend, a writer whose play has only been seen a few times in the neighbourhood and was then barred from opening in ‘town’. Now he writes theatre reviews and at one point is warned not to be too critical of the plays he reviews. He comes to visit the apartment a few times and tries to give advice to the daughters. He is trusted by the mother because he is from the community – whereas the men Luisita takes up with have made their money through conforming to the Francoist regime’s policies.
The film’s narrative changes in its second half. Initially it would appear that the drivers of the narrative are Luisita and Elo. Gradually, however, it is Faustino who takes over Elo’s story as his gambling and womanising eventually leads to his downfall and Elo’s degradation. My memory is of Spain as a country besotted by lottery tickets but Faustino cons himself by thinking he is an expert on predicting football scores. The ‘pools’ is a relatively harmless pastime but Faustino is obsessed (we even get a glimpse of Real Madrid playing in the early 1960s when they were even more dominant than they are now). Low level gambling keeps the working-class happy and uninvolved in political struggle (see the rise of the lottery competitions in the UK since the 1990s) and seems a good way of satirising Francoism.
In the discussion that followed, it was clear that people had enjoyed the film. I think it would be very interesting to compare El Mundo sigue with other similar films from across Europe during the same period. I’m sure the differences would be interesting and show up what living under Franco was like for the urban population in the 1960s. Unfortunately the Spanish DVD is listed as only having French subs. The trailer here doesn’t hve subs but gives an idea of the film.
In the clip below from the early part of the film, we see Lusita working in an up-market shop, then Elo arriving at the family apartment seeking money to buy her children food. The pious brother and father are also there and eventually Luisita arrives and the sisters are immediately at odds.
For the past few months I’ve been trying to find the website of the Central Board of Film Certification in India. Google kept telling me that the URL which was still evident on other websites was no longer working. Finally, last night I stumbled across it. If you too have been trying to find it, here it is: http://cbfcindia.gov.in/
Given all the brilliant IT people trained in India I’m often struck by how ropey many important websites are. The new CBFC site is not wonderful. All I wanted to do was find out the most recent numbers of films in each major language. It took a long time to decode the minimalist menus to eventually find the statistics. The trick is to go to ‘Publications’ and download the two useful pdfs on offer. The first tells you about Film Censorship in India and the second leads you to comprehensive stats about Certification in 2009.
I’ve translated the stats on films certificated in 2009 into a chart. What’s interesting is that 53% of the 1288 films in that year were produced in the four South Indian languages. Of course this doesn’t mean all of them were released or that they all found audiences.
The other interesting stats refer to the certification of foreign films. A total of 283 foreign films were certificated in 2009. The principal sources of foreign features were as follows:
- US 198
- Hong Kong 18
- France 15
- Thailand 13
- UK 11
Finally the stats cover dubbing. 202 Indian films were dubbed into another (Indian) language. 73 films were dubbed into Hindi, 47 into Telugu and 44 into Tamil. 130 ‘foreign films’ (probably all Hollywood films) were dubbed into the three main Indian film languages, Hindi, Telugu and Tamil.
An interesting reply to Nick’s letter to Ofcom, but the announcement yesterday that the UK government is going to legislate against downloaders of representations of ‘sexual violence’ is also worrying. (See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/berkshire/5297600.stm)
I don’t like the idea (or the practice) of any kinds of violent acts towards men, women, children or animals, whether for sexual motives or any other and like most people, I’m sure, I feel for the mother who lost her daughter because of the actions of a violent man. However, as any media student ought to know, deciding on the meaning of media representations of any actions is a complex business. Who is going to do it? There are plenty of people who engage in consensual acts of simulated sexual violence and some who actually get pleasure from receiving pain (and who therefore need others to adminster it). Are they going to be imprisoned for exploring their fetish? It is going to be difficult to distinguish real from simulated violence. I just hope that legislation isn’t passed on the basis that it is too difficult to distinguish between consensual and forced ‘sexual violence’.
On the whole, I think the BBFC now does a pretty good job in classifying films and responding to public tastes. However, I’m a little baffled by the decision to make The Notorious Bettie Page an 18 Certificate film. Mary Harron’s film is not what some audiences expected and it might be criticised for leaving out some aspects of the Bettie Page story, but what she did decide to present is not likely to corrupt anyone in my view. I guess it must be because the subject matter includes fetish material and that this must be kept away from 16-17 year-olds? If the movie does anything (and I think it manages quite a few ideas) it satirises American society’s attitudes towards sex in the 1950s. Perhaps we will need something similar if the criminalisation of sexual activity is extended in the UK?
Governments, especially this one, are prone to create new legislative powers without thinking very long or very clearly. I hope they get this one right.
One of the most disturbing events this summer was Time-Warner’s agreement to cut smoking out of ‘children’s’ cartoons after Ofcom requested them to do so, apparently after one parent’s complaint. I can’t find any info on Ofcom’s site regarding this ludicrous decision; Tom apparently rolls a cigarette in order to impress a ‘dame’. No doubt the parent’s nipper(s) was so impressed by this that they will go on to become a smoker: the ‘effects’ theory is alive and having an undue influence on policy still (my guess is Tom’s ploy failed and so if the ‘effects’ theory is correct the child would not have become a smoker).
I think this amounts to an Orwellian rewriting of history and am going to complain to Ofcom.