Violence Sights. Surrealism, Sound, and the Second Republic (September 5-7)

This week we are going to explore the advent of sound in film, and the explosion of Surrealism and the Second Republic as agents of parts of the cultural production of literature and cinema in Spain during the latter 20s and early 30s. Andrés Zamora’s article “Violence (Spanish Eyes) will help us understand the role that violence plays in this period of cultural development, while Pavlovic, Zambrano, and Jiménez will help us see how dreams, demons, nightmares, returns, and remembrances play critical roles in such development.

With Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves/Snow White we will see these demons, memories, violence, and eyes gazing around even in 2012, after it was all said and done.  Technically.

14 Replies to “Violence Sights. Surrealism, Sound, and the Second Republic (September 5-7)”

  1. The hardest part of watching this film for me was seeing Maribel Verdu as a villain. That hardship was quickly overcome and the film was an absolute pleasure. It’s a silent film from 2012 that loosely bases itself on the legend of Snow White. Silent films were in at the time, most aptly demonstrated with The Artist taking home the Best Picture Oscar the year before. However, what separates this film is that Berger doesn’t cheat. He creates an atmosphere and feeling like it was made by DeMille or Griffith back in the early 1920s (given that the production code wouldn’t have rejected Verdu’s wickedness).
    Berger explores the idea of the Gaze in this film. It is apparent with his frequent close-ups on eyeballs. This Gaze is all-encompassing because it relates to memory, pictures, thoughts, and reactions. The Gaze sees violence and hardship, but it also sees beauty and love. Carmencita not only remembers the horrible things done to her by her stepmother. She remembers the happy times with her father. Berger creates a lovely film that hopefully has gotten people to be more open with silent cinema because it can be rewarding to watch.

  2. As a film student, I found the ways in which Berger expressed inherent violences in Spanish culture careful and deliberate so that they would be identifiable by a Spanish audience, but also nuanced enough that he avoided clichés. Blancanieves takes the brutal nature of bullfighting and manipulates it to define relationships within the film. For example, in the beginning, a scene shows an extreme close up of a dead bull’s eye which slowly fades to Antonio Villalta’s eye, and I immediately felt this sense of mirroring. The slaughter and manipulation of the bull in the bullfight resembles the murder of of Antonio by his new bride. And also, the scenes in which Carmenita watches Encarna’s BDSM-like role play, where she forces men onto all fours and rides around as though on a bull, it seemed Encarna’s affinity for violence was really a sexualization of bullfighting, and therefore a sexualization of the thing that maimed her husband. Themes of violence, the reflection of violent fantasies or tendencies, and the parallel nature of violence and sexual pleasure define themselves over and over in this provocative, Spanish fairytale.

  3. “Blanca Nieves” by Pablo Berger represents beautifully the well-known story of Snow White through a Spanish Lens. It incorporates the traditional Spanish culture and stays faithful to the structure and characteristics of a silent black and white film in the 1920’s. Through Carmencita, we see these gender bending qualities as she can do as well as her father and make him proud as a bullfighter. However, her stepmother through spite and jealousy tries to suppress her just like Juan does to his wife Acacia in “La Aldea Maldita”. Both characters attempt to make them unattractive. Both Acacia, and Carmencita are dressed in old, ugly clothes and are portrayed in a way that is far from an attractive woman. It’s almost as they want to take away that identity and make them dishonorable.
    Berger uses intense facial close-ups throughout the film and in this we can clearly see the characters facial expressions. We almost feel like we are present when Carmencita and her dad stare at each other intently when they are reunited at Monte Olvido.
    The house’s name Monte Olvido is ironic as it represents Carmencita’s life. At first she is forgotten by her father as he loses himself in sadness because of he lost the love of his life. Then Carmencita due to a forced drowning ends up forgetting who she is. Lastly, she becomes this showcase and no longer the renowned bullfighter she was, where in a way she is stripped away from her identity and who she was. It makes me think about if she really represents woman as a whole and how today in society they are repressed by men all across the disciplines. There is this violence to femininity, as she can never really be her true self.

  4. Blancanieves by Pablo Berger was a powerful, and definitely unique, adaption of the classic Grimm Brothers tale of Snow White. One of the themes for this week, violence, clearly showed throughout the film, from the bullfighting motif and the harsh treatment of Carmencita by Encarna and her servants. I did not, however, recognize the surrealist nature of the film until discussing the film and the chapter “Spain Dreams Itself Awake” in Maria Zambrano’s Delirio y Destino in class today.

    A key component of the surrealist movement is its emphasis on dreams and memories. Carmencita’s transformation from an orphan to a public figure revolved around her memories, or lack thereof. Carmencita’s subconscious repressed her troubled childhood, filled with loss and an abusive stepmother, to the point where she did not know who she was after she was drowned. It is when her memories begin to flow back, driving her to the point of tears as she stands in the middle of the bull-fighting ring, that she recognizes her past and who she is. Zambrano describes a process of “self-purification,” which is exactly what Carmencita encounters. This is “when a people awakens while dreaming itself, when it awakens because its dream, its project, demands this and requires a people to know itself, to dissolve the bitterness stored in its memory, to bring hidden wounds out into the open, and to carry out an action that is simultaneously a confession.” While this applies to the Spanish people, this could easily be interpreted on the individual level to Carmencita. Her memories are repressed in her subconscious but resurface, and bring her to remember who she really is. The cathartic experience she experienced in the middle of the ring before she carried out the fight, while honoring her father, exemplifies this.

  5. Carmensita dreams herself Blancanieves. The second half of this film can be seen as the hallucination or dream of Carmen in the moment of her death as transposing her own life details into that of the Grimm brothers tale of Snow White. The tear that falls from Carmens face in the last scene is the inevitable coming of terms with her own meta-death and the “real” end of the story. That is why even with her true loves kiss she cannot wake up. There is an undeniable reality behind. Following this argument, her dead body as an object in a freakshow is as inorganic as this dream of remaining alive(and going on to become snow white with the dwarves) as she is drowning, allowing her to dream this. Where as in Carmens real life she was powerless and doomed to a short ending fate, in her dream she is powerful and revived in the image of her father. What really interests me is Bergers choice to stylize the play as a españolada. Is this chosen to emphasize this history of violence that Spanish cinema carries? Is it then in irony or a mark of the importance of historicity? The two poems from Juan Ramon Jimenez have this same identification of historical memory as that of a moving sort of body that is reborn such as in Zambrano’s essay as well.

  6. Berger explores the blurred lines of gender roles and reversals in Blancanieves. Carmencita, the female protagonist, who, in an era of modernity, finds liberation through bullfighting, a traditionally masculine sport. Carmencita loses her femininity and her humanity when her evil stepmother, Encarna, callously robs Carmencita of it by chopping off her long hair.

    Carmencita’s long hair is representative of her femininity, and it is only after her death when the viewer sees her with long hair once again. Her femininity is a weapon used to force her into posthumous sexual objectification, rather than being a symbol of her strength. With her long hair, she becomes an object to be desired by the male gaze. She is no longer seen as the strong female bullfighter she once was; she is reduced to being a submissive body, rather than a being. Although she proved her capabilities in a traditionally male environment, her lack of power in death implicitly states that she embodied a more masculine spirit while alive, which led to her triumph. It was not her femininity that caused her to succeed, but rather she succeeded because she acted and dressed like a man. Carmencita becomes a spectacle at the freak show, solely existing for the pleasure of the male audiences who receive sexual gratification from her lifeless state. Here, Berger is commenting on the sexist culture in Spain, exposing the demons of masculinity and the ingrained subordination of women.

    Berger explores the concept of gender reversal earlier in the film when Encarna plays the traditionally male role with her lover. She is seen holding him on a leash tied around his neck, presumably for her erotic pleasure. He, however, unleashes his demons when he tries to regain his sexual dominance for his own pleasure with Carmencita. He kisses Carmencita while strangling her, showing that he finds sexual pleasure in violence and erotic asphyxiation. Carmencita regains her power over him when she escapes from his kiss, denying his sexual advance and shaming his masculinity.

  7. Blancanieves is a silent, white and black film that is incredibly impactful despite its lack of sound. Particularly, the way Berger includes aspects of violence throughout the film not just in the bullfighting scenes but also in the dancing scenes. This motif of violence reverberates throughout the film expounding on Zamora’s statement that death in Spain is a national spectacle and is an integral part of their culture. The bullfighting is a display of both grace and force, as the twisting and turning movements are smooth but swift. But the Flamenco dancing, with its sharp movements and the mirroring dance moves between Carmencita and her abuela was also just as forceful. When Carmencita dances for her father and spins him around in his wheelchair, the film shows a form of violence caused by the adrenaline rush from Carmencita’s dancing. These expressions of violence are elegantly paired with passive acceptances of death for both Antonio and Carmencita. The scene where people take pictures with Antonio’s corpse mirrors people trying to wake Carmencita up with kisses. In both instances, each character is powerless against death which is a paradox compared to the bullfighting and dancing. Violence is not just displayed in movement; throughout the film aspects of characters are broken down through dismemberment whether physically or emotionally. Encarna’s act of chopping Carmencita’s hair and making her become more masculine is more subtle but still violent way of making Encarna more powerful. This film meticulously blends violence and acceptance, masculinity and passivity, and also incorporate Spanish history. My favorite part of the film is the ending song, which sounds like a traditional Spanish song about Blancanieves but closely resembles a Muslim prayer song, alluding to the moors who previously occupied Spain. The film was emotional and intense, and though recently made it still encompasses the traditional Spanish silent film aura.

  8. In María Zambrano’s “Spain Dreams Itself Awake,” she mentions the concept of lucid dreaming and defines it as “awaken[ing] without abandoning our dream of ourselves” accompanied by self-purification (41). In my opinion this means becoming aware and embracing your dream while you are still asleep and then letting go of your other doubts. Lucid dreaming takes place in Pablo Berger’s Snow White when Carmencita meets her father for the first time. Ever since she was a child she would dream about seeing her father, the bullfighter, and reread the newspaper article he was featured in. The film captures Carmencita’s desire for this chance when she is running down the road trying to catch the car she believes her father is in, and when she looks up at the window on the second floor of her father’s house. Then the moment of Carmencita meeting her father arrives and it is full of suspense because all she can see at first is the back of his wheel chair. In my opinion, the moment where the lucid dreaming begins is not once their eyes meet, although that is the moment they both wake up, because they have not yet let go of their wounds. Only when Carmencita runs over to her father and gives him a hug can the audience see that both characters have let go of their pain and fully accept the state of lucid dreaming. Then as the movie continues Carmencita and her father slowly begin to recover and create a new relationship when she is able to sneak up to his room.

    Zambrano also mentions in “Spain Dreams Itself Awake” that Spain has never been really understood or heard, and the same can be said about Carmencita after her grandmother’s death. It is not until she reunites with her father and wakes up that she finds a space where she can talk and be heard. It can be said that Carmencita represents Spain in that moment because only when Spain was able to let go of its pain did it completely awake.

  9. The underlying themes which developed our discussion of both the literature and film for this week was the impact and use of violence and the concept of the “eyes.” Violence was a common theme within Spain as it underwent a period of political turmoil. The concept of violence and blood can be seen in the 2012 film Blancanieves. Throughout the film the violence within the bullfights and the violent upbringing in which Blancanieves was forced into culminated in her possible death as she attempted to escape her step mother and nearly drowned. This drowning may be a dream or may be reality, but it reinforces the concept of dream oneself awake as we saw in the Zambrano essay. Lastly, the concept of the “eyes” can be seen in both the reading Violent Eyes and the film Chien Andalou. The symbolism of the violent cutting of the eye with the women is the same concept presented in the essay Spanish Eyes. The combination of these sources bring a depiction to abstract concepts of revolution and change of a nation and personally, they were a great tool in visualizing this era in Spain.

  10. Between Blancaieves and the literature we read, it was clear that violence played a huge role in cinema and literature of that time. Violence was came across through all the bull fighting, Carmencita’s hair being chopped, her almost rape and her being drowned, showing the range of the ways violence is applied in Spanish cinema.

    The seduction through violence has been seen in many other films. For Blancanieves, her seduction occurred when she was almost raped and then at the end, when the dwarf who was in love with her slept with her in the bed. It is unclear if he laid next to her in a sexual manner or a maternal manner. Since he did kiss her, I think it leans more towards the sexual manner, but in a longing way. This shows how their story will always remain incomplete so the dwarf does anything he can to try and stay connected to her.

    I also really enjoyed the conversation we had theorizing if Carmencita was actually dead in the second half of the movie. Connecting that with Spain Dreams Itself Awake really gave a lot of insights into the chance she was dreaming after she died. Everything in the second half happened to just work in her favor until she was given the rotten apple. When she was forced to be a cadaver on display it drew another parallel to her and her father. Her dead father was also put on display for pictures just as she was at the kissing booth to resurrect her. Dreams are our hidden desires so in this case, if she is dreaming, even though she has a tragic ending, she was more like her family than anything else. She was always spontaneously dancing Flamenco just like her mother and became a bull fighter like her father. Her dreams made her feel like a part of her family since she never had to the opportunity to do that when she was alive. Again, this is all if we take the theory that she did die when she was drowned. Personally, I think that theory is very likely and connects the story together even more.

    All in all, Spanish cinema and literature at the time had different types of violence and dreaming play huge roles.

  11. Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves, although a modern film, brings the audience back to 1920’s Seville in a black and white silent film. This way of presenting the film made it feel like a film from the 1920’s discussing the 1920’s. In a period in Spain’s history where women and men had two distinct roles, Berger makes it clear that gender is second to blood. Carmencita truly is her parents’ daughter. Berger emphasizes this with her connection with her mother in the scenes where Carmencita dances the flamenco. Her dancing is eerily similar to her mother’s. It is so similar that her father sees images of Carmen when Carmencita dances. Here there is a literal portrayal of natural ability being tied to blood.
    We also see uncanny parallels between Carmencita and her father. Bullfighting is possibly the most obvious one in the film. She manages to subdue calves and bulls handily despite the fact that she is a woman with her only experience being pretending to bullfight when she was hanging laundry. Her success, therefore, must be closely tied to her blood as well. Bullfighting runs in her veins. Another strong parallel is the fact that following there deaths, both Carmencita and her father become commodities. People paid to take photos with Antonio. His prominence as a bullfighter created a spectacle in his death. People paid to kiss the dead Carmencita in hopes to bring her back to life.

  12. As a media and film studies student, I was able to notice the ways in which Berger was showing violence. You would think that the Spanish version of Snow White would be calmer, but it wasn’t. “Blanca Nieves” by Pablo Berger was very true to the Spanish culture and the way in which gender is considered at the time. Carmencita, uses her feminine side to channel her mother and does a beautiful flamenco dance. On the other hand, she channels her masculinity through the dismemberment of her hair and shows her skills bullfighting. One thing under the theme of violence that we talked about in class is how similar “La Aldea Maldita” and “Blanca Nieves” are. There were two different characters trying to dismember the women: Carmencita and Acacia. Although one was from her husband, and the other from Encarna, they both were in worn out clothing, with unattractive hair and constantly being dragged around.
    As for the reading by Zambrano, “Spain Dreams Itself Awake” I thought that it was really interesting to think that she was maybe dreaming after she died. While watching the movie, I definitely never thought of it like this. I think Spain not being heard is very similar to the feelings of Carmencita because no one was ever there to listen or hear her after the death of her grandmother.

  13. “Blancanieves” examines several current 21st century issues through a older styled film, in the style of the old silent and black and white films. The movie tackles the issues of honor, dismembering of the female body, as well as the aestheticization of violence. Carmencita experiences tragedy after tragedy throughout her life, caged and bound by her circumstances. Even in death, she is bound to her own body, unable to move on. This plays on the expectations set upon women during the time period that this film was set, as well as during 2012. Women are bound to certain standards within their society. They are supposed to look feminine or play a certain role in the household. Berger, the director, portrays that these antique ideals set upon women are still present in our current society. Blancanieves is alive on the inside, but dead on the outside, contrasting to women that may feel that they are alive and have something to contribute to society, yet they are caged by the expectations that society places on them and must conduct their lives in a lifeless manner. Continuing with this lifelessness that women experience, society dismembers women’s bodies in the media, cutting them down to just body parts and idolizing specific areas of women, instead of their whole selves. Berger utilizes the chopping of Carmencita’s hair to symbolize the brutality of this act and to comment on how cruel this event is, not only in Carmencita’s life, but in the lives of women today.

    Though it came out in 2012, Blancanieves serves as a modern day representation of many of the themes from the Surrealist period, especially surrounding violence, the female image, and dark humor.
    I found the implementation of dark humor in the film to be particularly powerful, and the idea that we discussed of violence and humor going hand in hand was prominent. There are some light moments of happiness in the film: Carmencita and her grandmother dancing, the moment when her father recognizes her once she comes to live with him, and moments in which Carmencita appears truly happy with the bullfighting dwarves. These moments, however, are powerfully juxtaposed with the intense brutality and grotesque nature of other parts of the narrative. Throughout, these moments of brutality are obvious. An important example is the scene when Antonio is killed by the bull. This scene perfectly symbolizes how intertwined violence and Spanish culture are: bullfighting is a brutal, violent tradition that has survived for years, despite the horror that comes with it. Yet, people still show up—they can’t tear themselves away from the temptation of the grotesque. It is this fluctuation between the beautiful and the grotesque, such as in Bañuel’s Un Chien Andalou, that gives Blancanieves the Surrealist feel. However, what is more interesting to look at is the way that the film perfectly captures the idea of dark humor, an important, though less obvious part of violence in some of the most famous Surrealist films. These moments of dark humor were scattered throughout the film—they were moments that made you want to laugh, despite their inherent darkness. Scenes such as the Antonio’s fans taking pictures with his corpse and the “Freak Show” that Carmencita’s manager creates using her corpse are representative of this theme of making light of the grotesque, which consequently makes the horror of a given scene that much worse.
    We also discussed the importance of the female character and violence in films of the time, and Berger’s film displayed significant messages that touched on these ideas. In Blancanieves, we see firsthand the violence and control that is asserted over Carmencita from the time she is brought to her father’s house. She is stripped of her femininity via her haircut, put to work, pushed around, and psychologically tortured with the slaughtering of Pepe and watching the horrible treatment of her own father. However, what is most interesting to look at, in my opinion, is the way that the violence against the female figure is almost liberated. In the film, Carmencita herself becomes the bullfighter, traditionally a man’s job, thereby taking her father’s place and breaking free from the lifetime of constraints that had been placed against her. Ironically, however, in breaking free from the violence she had been tolerating since she was a little girl, she must grow into and takeover the position of a man instead of growing into herself as a woman, which poses an interesting question. As we watch Carmencita and the way she needs to take the place of a man to actually be liberated from her own oppression, we have to ask ourselves if she is really being liberated as a woman, or if she is only liberated because she has the skill and ability to take on a job traditionally done by a man. In this way, it is possible to take this narrative as the message of a continuing male-dominated world despite attempts for women to become fully liberated.
    In terms of the surrealist movement, though the movie came out in 2012, there were accurate elements of this artistic style. Themes of repressed sexual desire, evident when Carmencita’s attempted murderer kisses her as he suffocates her, followed by her attempted drowning, are characteristic of a time when films delved into these ideas of repressed sexual desire and the violence that ensued as a result. Thinking about the idea that after this drowning, the rest of the film is a dream—an entirely different analysis altogether— is, in short, also a means of looking at the film through a surrealist lens, as it led us to consider the ideas of stream of consciousness and repressed memories.
    Ultimately, it is difficult to speak to every important aspect of Blancanieves, as it was a film that provoked intense thought about a number of different but connected elements crucial to the history of Spanish film. Through implementing themes of dark humor, the female role, violence, and repression the film gives the viewer a lot to think about, and begs all kinds of questions about female liberation, violent tendencies, and the power and intrigue of the grotesque.

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