Nostalgia and Economic Independence. Historical Memory as Cinematic Pastiche (19-21 September)

This week we are going to explore the correspondences between nostalgia and economic independence, and how historical memory begins to appear as cinematic pastiche in Spain.  The reading by Pavlović on Autarky and Papier- Mâché Cinema between 1939 and 1950, alongside the poem by Gloria Fuertes, “Off the Map” and the story by Rosa Chacel, “Chinina-Migone” will help us see how economics, independence, pastiche, and historical memory play critical roles in the development of the literature and cinema in the repressive frame of fascism.

By Saturday at 5PM at the latest, please post comments, questions, or doubts you have regarding this correspondence between economics, nostalgia, and historical memory, and how you see it represented in the cinema and literature we are going to discuss.

With Fernando Trueba’s Belle Époque (1992) we will see a post-Francoist representation of the first glimpses of economic independence during the good times of the Republic, the nostalgia that characterized historical memory of españoladas,  and the way in which cinematic pastiche points to the disasters of fascism to come after 1939.

.  On Thursday, we will hear Ms. Tate present the article by Benet, “Historical Films During the First Years of the Franco Regime and their Transnational Models” (31-41)

.  Recommended examples of historical memory as cinematic pastiche from the the 1940s: Juan de Orduña, Locura de amor (1948) and José Luis Sáenz de Heredia and Francisco Franco (aka Jaime de Andrade), Raza (aka Espíritu de una raza) [No English subtitles; Spanish audio]

.  PLEASE, NOTE: The deadline for paper 1: Engagement and propaganda of fascism and resistance to it has been moved to Monday the 25 at 10AM.  Print version (NOT by email), in my mailbox at the Department of Spanish during business hours, or under the door of my office (515 South Callaway) after hours.

16 Replies to “Nostalgia and Economic Independence. Historical Memory as Cinematic Pastiche (19-21 September)”

  1. Belle Époque begins with a shocking scene, easily the most horrifying story arc in the entire film. While debating whether or not to release an army escapee, the male protagonist Fernando, two fellow Civil Guard soldiers, an elderly man and his son-in-law, enter into an ideological disagreement. The older man argues that they may as well release Fernando, because he can feel the advent of the Republic, whereas his son in law maintains that they must follow the instructions of their commanders, and the authority of the current regime. The debate heats up when the man goes to unlock Fernando from his handcuffs, and his son-in-law pulls a rifle on him, and threatens to shoot. The older man threatens his son-in-law’s masculinity, saying he doesn’t have the balls to do it, which ultimately provokes his own death. Shaken by his own patricide (-in-law), the son-in-law takes the rifle to his own head, taking his life as well.

    This expository moment, that ushers the audience into the Belle Époque, is notable not only because it allows Fernando to escape to the village where he meets Manolo and his daughters, but it sets the scene of Spain at the time. The film is set in the winter of 1930, a tumultuous time just predating the advent of the Second Republic. The division between the Republicans and the Carlists was dividing families, causing parents and children, siblings and grandparents to be at each other’s throats. As much as it was a time of strong divides and convictions, it was a time shrouded in confusion for many in Spain. In Trueba’s film, this confusion manifests itself in an ideological conflation of Catholicism with Nationalism, and a broader sexual confusion. Fernando’s libido causes him to cavort with Violeta, Rocío and Clara, and feels passionately about all three of them, whereas they don’t reciprocate the sentiment. Juanito is also frustrated, so renounces Catholicism to curry Rocío’s favor after she fights with his conservative and critical mother; he proceeds to un-renounce the church when Rocío is not thrilled by the idea of free love that Juanito thought would please her. In this episode, and others from Trueba’s playful yet poignant romp, we see the intermingling of political and sexual confusion in a time when economics, politics and religion were swirled around in ideological turmoil. This confused and messy vision of Spain and her people during the advent of the Second Republic proposes an ambiguity only possible in historical memory, that is not always the most prevalent voice in texts penned during the period depicted.

  2. Trueba’s Belle Époque is a whimsical romantic comedy of finding the right love threaded with a foreboding underlying themes of quickly approaching fascism. This film grasps at a brightened view of pre-Francoist Spain, of a lively, expressive, sensual perception of Spain before the dark blanket of fascism suppressed the country. Manolo, a deserter of the war and therefore a character who draws separation from violence and tragedy, falls in love over and over again with each daughter of Danglard. Each romantic affair feeds off of humor, young vitality, and an unbridled sense of freedom. In my opinion, we haven’t viewed a film in class with such unrestricted joy, lust, and openness to follow one’s desires. Of course, this seemed intentionally unrealistic, and the sexuality and passion of all these relationships between the protagonists and the daughters was more of a spectacle than a credible depiction of Spanish courtship. However, one could argue that Fernando Trueba sought after a historical memory of Spain as it seems retrospectively untainted by an oppressive regime. Perhaps the “good times” of the Republic weren’t as quite as carefree, colorful, and relaxed as presented through this film, but the era must certainly lighten in comparison to fascism and its affects on Spanish culture. Though I haven’t experienced the brutality of Franco’s dictatorship and therefore cannot relate to Trueba’s nostalgia for an earlier Spain, I can understand his yearning, or at least his portrayal of yearning, for a different kind of Spain. Perhaps that’s the most interesting thing about this film, that it is rather objectively a happy movie, one of unrivaled laughter and romantic humor, but because of context, the audience is hyper aware of the premonition awaiting characters that we’ve grown to love and root for. This cultural and historical understanding will be felt at different levels and intimacies by different audiences, though I think it’s critical that each audience is nevertheless aware of upcoming horrors that the main character just escaped when he left the war.

  3. Fernando Trueba’s Belle Époque is a film vastly different from others we have seen. While films such as La aldea maldita and Blancanieves have provided a lens into repressive, violent times in Spanish history, Belle Époque is the opposite, providing an alternate look at the meanings of freedom and female empowerment.
    The film paints a very important picture of women specifically, and their somewhat surprising sense of economic independence pre-war, as well as their independence, in a sense, from male power and patriarchy, which allows them to freely explore their own emotions and desires, unlike the reality that Acacia faced in La aldea maldita. Where Acacia was encaged by her own society and seemingly could have no freedom to fulfill her own emotions and desires unless she truly abandoned her family, the four sisters of Belle Époque are projected as the opposite in these same regards. Their father supports their quest to find love and supports Fernando’s mission to find love with one of them—there is no talk of dishonoring the family and there are no messages of shame put forth in criticism of either of their conquests. Further, their mother is another interesting example of this. Rather than being projected by Trueba, or received as by her family, as any kind of “fallen mother” for leaving her family to pursue a career in opera, her daughters and husband anxiously await her arrival when she comes home, knowing and accepting that she will bring her wealthy partner with her into her real husband Manolo’s home— who in turn displays no resentment for her actions but instead welcomes her with open arms.
    Interestingly as well, Fernando not only feels no shame in confiding in Manolo about his struggle, but feels that he must because he owes it to him to tell him the truth. In Fernando, the film puts forth an image of the male form that we had yet to see before Belle Époque. Fernando is searching for love with the four sisters, yet there is no overwhelming theme of Fernando as a “macho,” powerful man. Instead, Fernando’s character is actually quite vulnerable, as he moves from sister to sister without finding what he is looking for. The image of the dejected, defeated, and lovesick man is a different image than other films of the time project, in which men are seen as all-powerful and dominant. This is also seen when the mother’s new partner bursts into tears at the though of her still being in a relationship with Manolo, and contributes to the important realization that in this film, between the four sisters and the mother, the women really hold all of the power.
    The contrast in attitudes regarding the freedoms of women and the reception of their actions is staggering, and brings the question of historical memory to the forefront. While the film is dramatic in that its intention is to draw in its audience through its humor and romantic story lines, it is still important to think about, as Maron wrote in her post, that perhaps this image of Spain is more exaggerated than what truly may have occurred. Though this may be, it is still a film that must be critically analyzed for its messages about freedom, economic independence, and the power of historical memory in this short period before the Autarky that was to come.

  4. Trueba explores themes of religious freedom, gender roles, and free love in Belle Époque. His film is built on the fond historical memories of the period shortly before Franco’s regime, at the dawn of the liberal Second Spanish Republic. The four sisters emulate the youthful and fertile Second Spanish Republic. The sisters are each in search of their individualities and sexualities throughout the film, which parallels the new waves of sexual freedom in Spain that emerged at the start of the republic. Each sister represents different aspects of the developing democratic republic. They are not sexually, politically, or religiously repressed, but rather, they are liberated and enjoy the benefits of their independence.
    Trueba experiments with the concept of gender by manipulating the traditionally accepted gender roles. Fernando is emasculated by the sisters; they adore and objectify him for their own enjoyment. Dressed as a soldier, Violeta occupies the conventionally masculine role, and, in the process, feminizes Fernando during their sexual encounter. The women act aggressively toward Fernando and treat him as a sexual object. The sisters embrace the behaviors that men customarily hold, such as openly enjoying sex and taking part in objectifying the opposite gender, which signifies the social revolution that the republic has awakened.
    Once the Republic comes into power, the characters find the priest who has committed suicide when they arrive for their joint wedding. His suicide signals the death of the monarchy and the loss of power of the Catholic Church upon the rise of the Republic. Luz and Fernando celebrate the rise of the Republic, however, they find themselves left feeling both liberated and also confused without the weights of authority over their heads.

  5. This week’s theme and era in Spanish history has been an unexpected surprise to me personally and my favorite theme we have discussed so far. While I appreciate and understand the importance of the silent era and the representation and importance of Spanish violence, it was both entertaining and joyful to watch the film Belle Epoque.
    The light heartedness, romance and comedy throughout the film represent a time of hope in Spain before the outcome of the civil war. Throughout the film everyone (including nationalist soldiers) assumed that the republic will prevail and that Spain will become a country of free love. All of the women in the film were able to financially handle it themselves with or without a man and were excited to enjoy freedoms such as the ability to divorce or to work as veterinarians. Yet, the mother’s character represents some of the underlying darkness of this era which would ultimately lead to the fall of the republic and the collapse of Spain into a fascist regime. The mother is a textbook representation of the concept of the autarky discussed in Pavlovic’s chapter and economic independence which hindered Spain at the time. Her blatant lies to her daughter exclaiming that she will defeat broadway and that she has sold out every show in South America while making lots of money showcases the Spanish exceptionalist ideals. Spain, like the mother, had to truly rely on outside economic support through international trade (or the held of an Italian billionaire lover in the case of the mother), and the arrogance and negligence by both will ultimately lead to their collapse.
    Lastly, the concept of historical memory can best be seen through the attitude of women at the time and the attitude of the women of the film. Manolo allows his wife and daughter complete freedom to lead their lives as they please whether it be premarital intercourse or to not marry or to be lesbian. The women of the film receive little to no scolding or consequences for their actions and are even praised for doing so by their father (when he kisses Violeta after Fernando tells him he had sex with her for example). Yet, when looking back at the history of Spain, this was largely exaggerated and women faced many difficulties and could never dream to experience the freedoms experienced by the women of the film. This stark contrast in depiction of women exemplifies the concept of historical memory and pastiche as the film constructs various ideals and freedoms seen throughout history into this era even though it is not at all representative of the true view of women at that time.

  6. This week we talked about the cinema and literature that rose from economics, nostalgia and historical memory. Pavlovic’s chapter was titled The Autarky: Papier-Mache Cinema which was a very unique term to the time period. Cinematic pastiche, which she called papier-mache, is something that does not make sense together but sense can be made of it; which is somewhat of a contradiction. Through the class discussion, this term began making more sense. It means, at a glance, the item being analyzed does not make sense, but when broken down or placed in another context, it does make sense. She gave it the name papier-mache because she created a parallel with the art craft of paper-mache. Paper-mache is usually made of newspapers when mixed with water and glue it begins to lose its ink but then when put together with other materials, it gives color.

    Taking a closer look at the poems, the topic of honor is always a constant in Spanish literature. In the poem, Autobiography, there is a line saying “at least seven love affairs” which breaks the envelope of honor. Along with touching on the double standard of a women having 7 men in her life, she would be shamed, but if the situation was reversed, a man would be called a stud and be praised. And this brings it back to some previous discussions we have had about feminism and honor; this topic comes up in most of the literature we have read so far.

    Another interesting feature about this poem is its title. There is no such thing as an autobiography in poetry. Poetry is all about being indulged into it while an autobiography is more of a story about a person’s life and identity. When the word autobiography is broken down it means self life writing. An autobiography can easily be falsely represented because you can interpret a situation in your favor without even knowing while if someone else is writing your biography, they can stay unbiased and write what actually happened. And this ties into being the surrealist platform of film, bringing cinema and literature together.

  7. Fernando Trueba in his movie Belle Epoque challenges social norms. Manolo’s daughters live on free will and economic independence. In a sense, this movie depicts women in control of men, money, and their own lives. The daughters are the ones who seduce Alberto into sleeping with them mostly for their own satisfaction. Rocio manipulates Juanito emotionally and she strings him along. Two of the daughters own their own stores which resembles this economic independence. It’s interesting to see such changes of how women were depicted. In la Aldea Maldita, Acacia attempted to act just like Manolo’s daughters. She wanted to gain this economic independence. However, her husband punished her for her dishonorable actions. She instead was suppressed to the extent that she became somewhat delusional. However, Manolo is aware of how his daughters act and even makes fun of it.
    Throughout the movie, I was confused in some scenes. In a sense, it was comical to see that as soon as Fernando slept with one of the sisters, he wanted to marry them and would act as if he was hopelessly in love. It makes me think if attempts to portray men as sexually driven. The father is almost sad that he can’t cheat on his wife because she is the only one that turns him on which emphasizes how woman have the power. There is also this loss of religious faith in the family that was something so prominent during Franco’s regime. The priest also idolatrized Unamuno who seen as a nationalist but also opposed fascism because he really wrote about both perspectives but people wanted him to cross him off as one. In this fil, we see a picture of what Spain could have been without fascism closing its doors. Women with such independence. Individuals with such religious freedom. It seems as the traditional aspects of Spain are deteriorating. The nationalist soldiers are killed, the priest doesn’t take the church seriously and even commits suicide, Luz and Fernando are married without a priest, woman sleep around outside of marriage, Violeta thinks she’s a man, Manolo is okay with his wife having a lover and even encourages it, and woman demonstrate this economic independence.

  8. The film for this week, Fernando Trueba’s “La Belle Epoque”, is very different from the other films we have been watching so far. The film brings a whole other perspective on the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War that I haven’t really considered: liberation. Though many were living in poverty and struggling with many hardships, for some the years before the war were seen as a time for freedom or the calm before the storm. My favorite aspect about this film is its exploration of what it means to be a woman. The four daughters in the film, Clara, Rocio, Luz, and Violeta all represent four different types of women which together are an amalgamation of what it means to be a woman.
    Clara is a widow and still mourns for her husband Higinio, embodying a woman dependent on her husband though he has passed. Rocio is more interested in the wealth of a person than their personality, as she intends to marry a socialite. Violeta is interested in women and represents a strong and independent woman who is sure of her choices.
    These woman are very different from Acacia from La Aldea Maldita. Acacia succumbed to Magdalena’s pressures and abandons her family which is an act of liberation, but when she returns she is powerless and completely dependent on Juan.
    This film is very similar to Gloria Fuertes’s poem called Autografia, because both the film and the poem are showing the effects before or after the war on people.

  9. Francisco Franco needed to legitimize his usurpation of power. The country’s growing proclivity for cinema offered just the medium to inundate the public with his narrative. At the heart of this narrative of revisionist history lies Franco’s divine right to rule the Spanish Empire. Raza by José Luis Sáenz de Heredia was a film on which Franco made his most personal mark. He wrote the novel of the same name, which Herida adopted into the screenplay. The story had inescapable autobiographical influences where Franco projected himself onto the character of José. Pavlovic asserts the novels autobiographical tone, “It is not difficult to recognize Franco’s mother in the virginal, sacrificial Isabel Acuña de Churraca…[who] also shares the mothers last name. Additionally, just like Franco, José enrolled in the military Academy of Toledo,”(Pavlovic, 69). By including factual similarities within a fictional story, Franco conflates history and narrative. By rewriting his mother as a virginal character, he invokes religious undertones that the Spanish public had been conditioned by years of Catholicism to recognize. He uses the motif of the virgin mother to imply his own divinity.

  10. In Belle Époque, director Fernando Trueba portrays the era before the Second Republic in Spain. Fernando, a man who deserts the war, becomes enamored with four beautiful sisters, eventually ending up with the youngest. This film is an examination of a time where issues of nationality, free love, and Autarky were all coming to a peak. A time where social and political views were about to reach a climax into turmoil and war. Trueba explores these issues through the character Fernando and his multiple love affairs. Each woman offers a different aspect of femininity and love for Fernando which causes him to develop mixed feelings, paralleling the conflicting and confusing aspects of Spain’s social norms and perspectives. The entire movie represents a time of self-discovery and exploration, both for Fernando as well as the women and the town as a whole. A significant scene in which Trueba depicts this confusion is with the soldiers in the beginning of the film. They are a part of a larger army and mentality, but yet when one of the soldiers strays from that ideal, the other is seen to struggle with his emotions and where his loyalties lie. He ends up shooting his own father-in-law in order to remain loyal to his political agenda. However, in doing so, he faces extreme remorse in choosing country over family, and ends his life in his pain and sorrow.

    Belle Époque is a fairly comedic film, yet Trueba begins the film with death, and ends the film with more death (the suicide of the priest) which I believe is an intentional director’s decision. He portrays a town in which life seems to be lovely and serene, however, by opening and closing the film with death, he conveys that there is more going on outside and within the town. This film serves as a stage of growth for the characters, but also shows the audience how there is an overcast of malevolence and conflict lurking at the end of the belle époque of Spain.

  11. This weeks themes can be seen in expression through Gloria Fuertes poems in Off the Map. Her collection seems to redefine woman as equal within the context that she is working in by purposefully breaking gender notions and making the reader question what subject they are dealing with. Furthermore the way she introduces religious themes and iconography is by a popularization of it. Religion is no longer an ethereal overarching yet unreachable force but rather an expression of the day to day; of the farmer, of the miner but never of the banker. This is best seen in the poem “Oración”. In a certain way it is completely against the franquista ideology but at the same time this populism is addressing and seeking identity within the workers and commoners of Spain. It is a gaze of historical memory in the sense that while there is disparity in the groups making up each political side, the backbone is ultimately that of the people. This can be looked at atemporally and is what makes an ultimate unity within the pastiche like organization. While autarky is permitting economic “independence”, Fuentes seems to be promoting a sort of independence within her readers as well. By the lowering of gendered perspectives and with this advocacy for an appropriation of religion to permit moral freedom. People are not only delivered from evil but delivered from good as well, as exemplified in the poem “Oración Para Ir Tirando”.

  12. The quote about Gloria Fuertes, “she never wastes her loneliness on self-pity,” from the fourth page of Off the Map stuck with me because I believe that it represents all of the films and literature we have studied in this course so far. Whether they lean towards Nationalism or not, they have not once demonstrated self-pity. They have expressed anger, pride, melancholy, and a whole myriad of other emotions but the overall take away from these works is that Spain should not be pitied.

    In this unit we talked about historical memory and how it is portrayed in Belle Epoque. It demonstrates the time before the start of the Spanish Civil War as a happy and carefree time for the Spaniards and how living in the moment was of the upmost importance. The director could have easily made a movie about the year before the Civil War as a way to gain pity because if the Spaniards knew what was coming next they would have done more with their lives before everything changed. When the audience does see self-pity in the film the characters that are expressing it are not looked upon favorably. For example, in the beginning of the film Manolo is alone without his family for company and as a result he lets his house go and spends his time gambling in the whorehouse. Once his daughters come back home his mood changes considerably, but he is not represented as the best father figure because he lets his daughters do whatever they want and does not set a good example for them to follow. Then at the end of the movie after his family leaves the audience can tell that he is going to go back to his old habit of self-pity because of the sound of his voice when he tells his horse to start walking. Although the movie has some elements of self-pity, it was definitely not the overall message.

  13. Trueba’s title Belle Epoque refers to the time period between the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the beginning of WWI in 1914. It was beautiful, rich and filled with energy. The title suggests that the brief moment between the end of the monarchy and the civil war mirror that era. It was a lovely time of progressive thinkers and open-minded priests. However, flashes of what was to come remind us each time they take the screen. The heart of the film is Manolo, who knows exactly what Fernando is doing, but likes the young man enough to pretend not to notice. His night talks with the local priest were consistently engaging. The spirit between the two World Wars reminded me much of the opening third of “Atonement.” However, that film took us into the dark years that were to come, where as this wants to remain light and happy. That this film came out in 1992 is no surprise. It acts as a positive, nostalgic look back on the limited period that so many Spaniards know about. It was a joy to watch.

  14. Throughout this week we were talking about economic independence. I wasn’t able to make the screening, but after our discussion in class about the movie “Belle Epoque,” I was able to see how the women in the movie were more economically expressive than before. This movie was showing the pre-fascist lifestyle in Spain before Franco. This movie was particularly different than the others that we’ve seen because it wasn’t about violence, especially towards women in my opinion, but rather a more free lifestyle. Something that I didn’t understand during class was the idea of Luz living off of Manolo and how that would be considered economic independence. However, throughout class and after watching the movie, it was more clear why she was considered one of the most independent women. Luz doesn’t come off as poor, she has an extravagant car, jewels, clothing, vacations and daughters who are professionals. On paper, she’s doing really well and has a husband that will keep these looks up for her. I agree with Ethan’s post where he talks about how Spain is really similar to the mother with the concept of the autarky in Pavlovic’s chapter. They both show economic independence, but are actually dependent on other things. For the mother, it’s her husband and for Spain, it’s the different imports.
    Furthermore, I thought that there was a huge difference in the way that the women were portrayed in this movie compared to the movies that we saw previously. The women in Belle Epoque were not scolded or reprimanded for any of their actions. They were allowed to flaunt their money and the father kisses Violeta. In La aldea maldita, it seemed like the mother just did everything incorrectly and there was no coming back. She was dragged around and shamed to no end.
    In this unit, it was clear that gender representation had changed and that there was more liberty to women in different ways. Spain was also in a very different place right before Franco’s reign and that was depicted well throughout the movie.

  15. Belle Époque by Fernando Trueba was set during the years right before the Second Republic in Spain. The film was filled with both sexual and financial liberation. While the plot was fairly straightforward with a humorous tone, Trueba’s protagonists served as icons of economic independence and sexual liberation–ideas associated with the fall of Fascism and the rise of a new and modern Spain. Through Fernando’s various sexual escapades with each of Manolo’s daughters, Manolo looking the other way, and Amalia’s off-beat independence, it was clear these people were detaching from rigid traditional constructs and embracing all that could come with a Republican rule. This film truly entertained the ideas of free love and economic independence. Each woman in the movie, from the innkeeper to Amalia, was self-sufficient in her own way and respected for it. This was entirely different from what we saw in Rey’s La aldea maldita: the Acacia and her friend were shamed for their steps toward self-sufficiency and economic independence. Belle Epoque was the first film we saw with such a progressive nature. Trueba took norms and flipped them to create a film focusing on a new era of modernity.

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