Unit 4. Borders of Belief: National, Transnational.

This week we discussed several concepts that are critical for anyone trying to read Spain’s decade of the 50s: autarky, paper-maché cinema, the national-popular, and humor.

For this week blogpost, write a reflection on how you see populism, politics, humor, and autarky (economic independence) relate to the development and repression of historical memory, and how that negotiation appears represented in turn as cinematic pastiche in García Berlanga’s use of composition, camera work, and score in Welcome, Mr. Marshall!

No set deadline for this post, given my delay in sending the prompter.


  1. This week after watching Welcome Mr. Marshall, we had a wide ranging discussion about the historical context of the film and the systems in play that fostered its themes. This film has complex messages about autarky, politics, lineage, and the “national popular”. The use of humor to convey these messages is a powerful tool, entangling humor and irony with the messages of Francoism and Catholicism. These systems of belief, and their wide-ranging influence on the town in WMM, as well as on the production of this movie, are oppressive, and in response, we see the creative alternatives this oppression creates. The “national popular,” mandated from the top down, constructs a strong national identity despite the regional diversity of the country. We see this in the movie, as the town takes on a caricature of the country. But Berlanga is able to send a message, using irony and tragedy to show that all of the work put into the false identity does not help the town at all, instead plunging its residents into debt. The contrast between silence and cheering as the Marshall group speeds through town drives home this point, as the fantasy and reality of Spain converge. This film perfectly illustrated the conflicts and tensions in play as Spainards respond to Francosim.

  2. I greatly enjoyed “Welcome, Mr. Marshall!”. Though it was in Spanish, I found I was still able to pick up some of the humor through the subtitles. The movie is about the resilience of a town and their heart. They spend all their time preparing for the Americans that never come to help save themselves and in the end they maintain their spirits and their community. Though it does not appear that this town has autarky because of their hopeful dependence on the Americans for gifts, in the end we see the town all comes together to help pay for all of the celebration that they prepared for the Americans. This is a great example of autarky as we see the town sustain itself financially. Use of camera work in this film highlights relationships between the people of the town and emphasizes the community they share. The score, however shows us the heart of the town and how they all come together in the end which highlights the autarky they hold.

    Movies like this show us how historical memory plays out in different countries. Despite the oppression of Francoism and religion in this community, what is most remembered is the town and their resilience. The movie almost presents a sugarcoated view of the past as we see less of the oppression and more of how amazing and independent Spanish people can be.

    1. Dear Catherine,

      Autarky can be read in different manners in the movie. While as you argue the capability of the town to come together and pay for their expenses shows their ability to sustain themselves, their motivation points to the contrary. One could also argue, that the town only acts in relation to the arrival or departure of the Americans. First, they put on a show for the Americans which takes on a heavy cost on their economy, and finally, they stop the show the Americans ignore their performance. Thus the question bears on the identity of this town, and who these people are. If their acting of nationality depends on a foreign agent to what extent are they Spanish and to what extent are their foreigners to their own nationality. And of course, the implication is that this national popular is as foreign to them as the Americans, signaling their very own division and fragmentation that the fascists produced.

  3. Bienvenido Mister Marshall! was the film we discussed heavily this week in relation to the time period after which the Spanish civil war was won by Franco, and during which fascism consequently isolated Spain from the rest of Europe. Along with this seclusion came an economic downfall for the entire country, but also many individuals who suffered extreme poverty, hunger, unemployment, etc., and many times all at once. Film production in the 40s relied on 2 primary measures: censorship and dubbing as well as revision of scripts and scenes before their public release since the government was in no place to worsen their public image. Like in Bienvenido Mister Marshall!, new films during this time mostly placed an emphasis on classic themes and ideologies that mimicked the ‘españoladas’ that everyone knew and loved, but it was also up to the audience to discern the hidden meanings behind some films with political undertones.
    One thing that is striking about this film is the variation is camera angles, as well as the use of humor to convey messages about those in power in Spain at the time, and the systems in place that are, in fact, just keeping those who are already in poverty, poor. For example, the camera continuously pans down from a higher perspective within the small village, showing the mountains that close in on the helpless town and those who live there, emphasizing their insignificance and helplessness although their goal the entire film is to try and revitalize and aid the community. We know that this is not possible in the end as the Americans do not end up stopping in the community and adding Spain to a part of the Marshall Plan. With this film, we also spoke about the National Popular and how this relates to the genre of españoladas in Spain as well as putting those who have “clean blood” on a pedestal. It is clear by now that Spain under Franco only valued those who perfectly emulated a traditional, pure, and Catholic citizen, and we see this represented by many of the characters in this week’s film. While the use of humor in this film did add a more lighthearted element to it, it was also rather dark and depressing to understand all of the Spaniard’s efforts of trying to create a better life for themselves while receiving virtually no support from their own country or foreigners.

  4. The trying time of the 40s in Spain, following the collapse of any Fascist regimes after World War II, put Franco and his supporters in a difficult global situation. Here, they were faced with what seemed to be an opportunity to be taken on by the global superpowers, but instead were looked over in the quick turn to the fight against communism. Spain adapted quickly to this new global enemy and branded themselves anti-communist while hoping to hide their recent fascist past and present. Welcome Mr. Marshall!, the 1953 piece by Luis García Berlanga, speaks to these rising global tensions in a work of satire and the idealized image of Spain to the United States (and most likely the rest of Europe).
    What we get in this film is a perfect depiction of the papier-mache facade that was Spain at this time, as a prosperous country whose citizens were all in full support of their country and their ruler. The townspeople in the film are united by their Mayor to put on a show for the Americans in order to get the gifts that they have been promised by the naive leaders of the town. Spain’s wish for economic independence is the unifying factor and they will put on whatever show they need to to achieve this goal. The scenes in Welcome Mr. Marshall! offer an extra push in the camera work by constantly working on showing the masses of the town in the final scenes all working together and cheering in an ultimate show of patriotism. The panoramic view gives the breadth of the national popular and its influence on its people. Berlanga makes this town of Villar del Rio, iconic of all Spanish towns and satirically stereotypes the Spaniards as what the rest of the world wanted to see in Spain.

  5. “Bienvenido Mister Marshall!” presents a satirical commentary on Spanish national identity in Francoist Spain as it struggled to maintain autarky in the face of an increasingly globalized world. In fact, the film doesn’t open within the village itself, but rather, the camera first shows the village far in the distance to the audience. This centers the viewer as an outsider along with the American diplomats the town struggles to entice; we are presented as equally foreign to the identity of the Spanish village as the Americans. Thus, even as we see the town construct a stereotype of itself, the viewer is still forced to spectate the stereotype instead of being able to to peer behind it. It’s only until the end of the film, when the camera is placed in the crowd alternating between cheering for the Americans and awkward silence when they continue driving out, when the viewer sees the façade crumble. The film ends with the village tearing down the decorations they erected to appease the American’s stereotype of them, and the whole process mirrors a Hollywood film crew “striking down” a set. The “papier-mache” image they present was only as permanent as the American’s interest in them, so they end up reverting to their original selves after their failure. However, the Americans are equally subject to stereotype through the villagepeople’s conception of them. Although most of them associate the Americans with the plastic Hollywood image, some including the priest see them (not incorrectly) as brutally racist and violent, and they fear what their foreign influence will mean for Spain. Yet, the village itself is almost foreign to its own country. Their own identity doesn’t align with the espanolada national identity they attempt to achieve, and in fact, the priest’s commitment to “tradition” exists in a Spain that already is the product of foreign influence through North African Muslims (the town even has a flamenco dancer) and devoid of certain traditions that have been discarded like the monarchy or nobility. Berlanga combines these elements of critique to argue that the national and transnational are arbitrary and even harmful to Spain’s people in their attempt to move forwards while maintaining their identity.

    1. Dear Deepak,

      Thank you for this insightful reflection. You point right to the incongruities between “tradition” and the “National Popular” by enumerating the different cultural experiences and fantasies at play in the movie. Indeed, how can the national be defined when in “Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall” it is made out of Andalusian and gitano stereotypes and tradition. And what does it mean for the town to perform this “National Popular” only when a foreigner is (or will be) looking? Not only is the national and transnational arbitrary, but one could even say that their condition and performance depend on that which they are not.

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