Italy in Spain’s Mind. Neorealism and Its Discontents (3-5 October)

This week we have explored the myriad ways in which the aesthetic and political characteristic of Italian Neorealism appears in the cinema and literature of twentieth-century Spain.  The chapter by Pavlović we discussed reviewed some of the tenets that Steven Marsh’s article presented about this matter last week, and prepared us to grapple with the reading of both Buñuel’s film Viridiana and Antonio Machado’s poem “Una España joven / A Young Spain.”  The articles by Bonaddio on hibridity, politics, and entertainment, and by Tarancón on realism, social conflict, crime drama and film noir also provided us with language and concepts to further understand this national / transnational exchange.


By Saturday at 5PM at the latest, please post your comments, questions, or doubts you have regarding what you understood by the role of Italian Neorealism, its ‘translation’ to Spain’s cinema and literature, and its relation with Spanish traditions of Realism, esperpento, the grotesque, historical memory, and nostalgia.

11 Replies to “Italy in Spain’s Mind. Neorealism and Its Discontents (3-5 October)”

  1. This week we focused on Neorealism and how it can be portrayed in cinematic forms. We watched the movie Viridiana directed by Bunuel and read the poem “A Young Spain” to see how they correlated. Neorealism was known as the Golden Age of Italian cinema and often shows the contrast between the poor and the rich/working class. Throughout both the poem and the movie, you can see the transition from the second republic into the world of “free love” and transnationalism. In class we mentioned how the poem is not a defense of fascism, but rather a fight to keep things the way that they were. The poems, specifically, also reminded me of the want to go back to christianity and be “pure” and drink the “blood of her wounds.” The poem was describing Spain as her and the nation that was broken with all the new politics. The author thought that Spain not resisting christianity and religion would help and heal the nation. Viridiana portrayed neorealism especially when the uncle hung himself because he had wrong a female and she rejected him. He wasn’t able to handle it whereas his son had no issues with Viridiana rejecting him originally. He moved on to Ramona and then accepted Viridiana when she came to his door towards the end of the movie. He actually played cards with both women, which showed a huge move towards transnationalism. I think the uncle represented more of old Spain, while the son represented more of new Spain and what was to come. Another part of the movie that portrayed neorealism was when Viridiana took in the poor. She gave them jobs, food, and purpose. This was a classic theme in neorealism cinema – where they mix the two classes. Overall, I thought that the poem and movie were really interesting and the fact that the woman’s body is there for a man was extremely present. It was very interesting to see how submissive women have to be to men and how they are expected to be cheated on or to be loved without consent.

  2. This week was an interesting perception of how Spanish artists chose to remain ambiguous and complex in their work to navigate the dichotomies emerging in a split society–one that operated under fascism. This film, provocative in its subject matter and the corruption of a Catholic figure, still managed to preserve conservative ideals in the submissiveness and assault of women, the depiction of the poor as unethical and untrustworthy, and the stress of familial ties. Yet, small details, like a nun with bleach blonde hair and large breasts, or the indulgence in a card game with American music playing in the background, liberated the characters in a really nuanced way. You could take what messages you wanted from this film, which I feel may have been exactly the point, as has been demonstrated by Berlanga and his work. Moreover, the poem we studied, on young Spain, also projected a portrayal of the country that could be read both conservatively/traditionally and as a liberation from the past, a nostalgic yearning for pre-fascist Spain. Machado describes Spain as being drunk, sloppy even, like a belligerent young woman in an over-revealing dress. Yet, there seems to be so much pain present, and the question of whether this pain refers to the suffering of Spain in the Second Republic or the pain of Spain suffering through fascism remains unclear. All I could be sure of as a reader is that the writer felt a need to explain that Spain, whether the liberal one or the fascist one, was crumbling naively, like a drunk person falling to their own demise.

  3. During this week’s topic of neorealism, we discussed Viridiana and poetry to explain the impact it had on Spain.

    The change in the way the male dominant characters act was a representation of the way Spain has developed with the birth of the Second Republic. While Viridiana’s uncle pushes himself onto her and after being rejected, he killed himself; on the other hand, his son shows interest and desire but in the end just plays cards with her, leaving his intentions up in the air. He did not let his desires control him as his Father did. This shows young Spain and how it became pure and how things are progressing. Even though, Viridiana went to flirt with the son, the movie was directed in a such a way leaving it hanging if something did develop between the two of them or not, keeping the spirit of free love alive.

    The topic of young Spain ties into the poem we discussed on Thursday. It discussed traditions like wine acting as Christ’s blood and how everything seems to always come back to Catholicism and the impact it has on its followers. Catholicism seems to always play a huge role in Spanish cinema and literature which reflects the beliefs of the people in Spain who were directly affected by these arts. The idea of young Spain can be related back to Virdiana and the dynamic of the way the Father and son acted showing a parallelism between cinema and literature.

    In addition, the way Viridiana showed feminism was in a modern way. She may have been working towards being a nun, but her hair was always partially showing and her veil was transparent. She would be following the rules, but bending them at the same time. This shows her dominant personality that was kept hidden. She also went from being in darkness to openly flirting with men which is portraying how her personality developed. It was done in a subtle manner, yet it was very impactful.

    All in all, neorealism has impacted cinema and literature in ways that changed the landscape of arts in Spain.

  4. The focus on the beggars and how they interact with different classes of people throughout the film Viridiana, directed by Luis Buñuel, is the neorealist aspect of the film. In my opinion, the beggars can be interpreted as a fascist Spain because of the decisions they make. For example, the beggars are in need of money, but they only want to get it on their terms. Some of them want to be so “economically independent” that they refuse to accept Viridiana’s help because of their pride and would rather ask for money on the street. The beggars also illustrate exceptionalism because they are all homeless and poor, but when they discover one of them has leprosy they ostracize him from both the dinner table and the sleeping quarters. Machado’s poem “Una España Joven” also supports this notion because when he describes Spain as “poor and weak and drunk, for no hand will heal her wound,” I immediately thought of the scenes from Viridiana where all of the beggars broke into the main house and had an elaborate dinner. At the end of those scenes the beggars were exactly like the poem stated, despite the fact that they were in a lavishly furnished home. The beggars in the film even had help to get their lives together, but they just took advantage of that help and went back to their original ways. This is similar to how Franco reverted Spain back to its earlier ways after some progress forward.

    The beggars demonstrate esperpento because Viridiana decides to care for them to replace the horrible memories she had in that house with her uncle. Unfortunately, a couple of beggars attempt to rape Viridiana like her uncle, which is ironic because she was trying to get rid of that memory only to have it resurface again.

  5. This week we watched Viridiana and it was a grotesque film that became a masterpiece of Bunuel’s. A white and black classic, the film focuses on Viridiana, a novice nun, was continually taken advantage of, physically and emotionally. Her uncle and the beggars both manipulate Viridiana but in very different ways. Though her uncle sexually and physically violates her, the beggars economically and emotionally violate her. The entire film is centered around a Catholic figure and the archetype of the fallen mother, and how these two motifs are completely interwoven. Viridiana is supposed to represent this chastity but she wears a black, clear veil, and her bleach blonde hair comes through her hair net. These subtle images show her own development infiltrating her intended purity. The last scene particularly stood out to me: american classic jazz music with a man and two women playing cards. The card game was a classic Spanish game, but the music and the set up was straight from a Hollywood 1950s film. The scene is subtly sexual as Jaime has a clear dominance over these two women.

  6. Neorealism characteristically focuses on the poor, and Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana shows what happens when poor people are brought into a wealthy living arrangement. The use of music is one way to track Buñuel’s approach to neorealism. Traditionally, Spanish films portray music from a source of elegance. Carmen the flamenco dancer in Berlanga’s Bienvenido Mr. Marshall and Carmen the mother from Berger’s Blancanieves both portray Spanish music through the medium of a beautiful, elegant woman. What was so interesting about Viridiana was the portrayal of Spanish music without its typical elegance. Instead, a homeless woman sings. This was the first time this semester that film shares the music from the poor members of Spanish society. While this could have been an opportunity to stress the similarities between the poor in the rich through the medium of music, instead it feels very off putting. This seems to agree with Pavlovic’s assertion, “Spanish neorealism has been criticized for absorbing only empty formalist traits of the movement, void of the social criticism that characterized its Italian counterparts,” (Pavlovic, 85). The film portrays the poor people quite badly. The last supper scene from the film stands out. It shows the vagrants destroying the estate while Hallelujah Chorus plays in the background. When the song plays earlier in the film, it shows Fernando Rey stylishly smoking a pipe in a smoking jacket listening quaintly to the religious song. This connotes that the poor people do not belong in the house, since they act so deplorably given the same situation. The film uses music to heighten the juxtaposition of the rich and the poor in Spanish society. This scene seems to legitimize the class divide, which does not fit within Italian Neorealism’s leftist ideology. If we consider Viridiana as an example of Spanish neorealism, it is fair to say that Spanish neorealism does not contain a similar social criticism.

  7. Buñuel’s Viridiana was largely criticized during its time for the messages and representations it put forth about religion. The entire film shows a kind of “awakening,” with smaller but important moments throughout it which “filmically” supporting this departure from the traditional Catholic Church to a more modernized set of ideals. One important aspect of the film that Pavlović discusses, and that is immediately obvious to the viewer is music. At the beginning of the film, there is choral, almost angelic-sounding Church music playing. At the end of the film, during the scene in which the house is destroyed by the people Viridiana has taken in, the Church music continues and finally ends, but only when Viridiana returns to the house, by herself, a woman independent of the Church, convent, and societal pressure, in modern clothes and with long, platinum blonde hair. At this point, the music transitions to American jazz—not only a more modern, edgy style of music but also one with solely English lyrics. Another place in which the film and Buñuel work to stylistically show this embattlement of ideas is when Viridiana is trying to have a few moments of prayer with her guests outside. The scenes of their circle and prayers and song is interjected with images of the work that Jorge is having done on the house—saws sawing, bricks banging, and drills drilling away at the past. This was a powerful juxtaposition in that it took the ideological battle happening between Viridiana and Jorge and artistically represented it through the composition of the film. The film was an important one in the questions it left its viewer about ideas of transition, development, and modernization in terms of religion, as seen above, and also as a woman living during this period in Spain. Through Viridiana, we were able to see a woman not only change with the times and her life experiences, but also her personal battle with these changes and the moments of clarity she had when she finally allowed herself to admit these changes to herself, and accept them.

    The poem “A Young Spain” that we read in class is important to look at next to Viridiana in the messages it holds about Catholicism as well. The poem takes the reader back to ideas of Catholicism as important, though promoting Catholicism not as a propaganda of a repressive form but as an important reference. While the poem is not a celebration of old Spain, it does suggest that should the new Spain wish to reach some greater height it will need to do so in the “divine light,” suggesting that maybe this push away from the old Spain was too extreme, and that to leave everything in the past was careless and rushed.

  8. In both Luis Buñuel’s film Viridiana and Manuel Machado’s poem “Una España joven,” there are recurring themes that correlate to Spain’s Second Republic–the tug and pull between a Fascist Spain rooted in traditionalism and Catholicism and a vibrant, young Spain filled with free love and progression. Viridiana, a beach blonde Spaniard training to become a nun, abandons her plan after being grossly taken advantage of by her own uncle, a representative of the ‘old’ Spain. She rejects the convent, and works to be a servant of God in her own way. As she houses and feeds the paupers of the town, she exercises her independence from long-standing Catholic traditions and slowly moves towards the ideals of a more modern Spain. After the paupers blatantly broke her trust and one sexually harassed her, she seems to reevaluate her piety and connection with the old Spain. By the end of the film, she becomes acquainted with the emerging Spain with the push from Jorge, her uncle’s son who represents modernity. She puts down her guard, dresses less conservatively, and listens to American jazz all over a game of cards.
    In contrast, “Una España joven” can be read as rejecting the ideals of the ‘new’ Spain, rejecting the ideals of Jorge. He is the youth, naïve and drunk, on his own agency. This poem explores how stable Spain was as it retained the traditionalist and Catholic grounding. The Viridiana we meet at the beginning of the film is the gold standard for Machado; but, by the end of the film, she can just as easily be considered as “poor and weak and drunk” as Jorge.

  9. This week we analyzed the theme of neorealism through the film Viridiana by Luis Bunuel and a poem by Antonio Machado. It was interesting to see that as neorealism came to Spain, spain would give it its own characteristics about what is Spanish and some black humor twists. In Viridiana, we see the characteristics of neorealism very prominent. We see how viridiana attempts to help the homeless and underprivileged. However, Bunuel not only makes them poor but a lot of them are disabled. Bunuel not only makes the poor more vulnerable but also through his camera decapacitates numerous characters like the little girl. Through the camera he focuses on her feet as she jump ropes but the significance behind this camera effect is still a little blurry. It could in a way be a flashforward of how woman are decapacitated into a sexual figure. The camera also cuts Viridiana’s body as she is drugged and passed out on the bed to emphasize her breasts. It seems as if this movie emphasizes men’s intentions of pure lust. It’s the demons they carry of this obsession of sex and dismembering bodies to focus on one thing. So, is would Bunuel be emphasizing the evil intentions of men. He also in a way makes fun of the church, as he eventually makes Viridiana this free woman, and this soon to be nun that men lust. He also pauses the scene where all the poor people are eating dinner in the mansion and makes it look like the last supper. I thought this scene was a little alarming and making fun of Catholicism. So, I can imagine how controversial this movie was. However, Bunuel does an amazing job to push all the right buttons to lead us to question these important topics. He also has this national, transnational perspective as at the end he creates this parallel very American world where the son, Viridiana and the maid are playing cards. He demonstrates very Spanish images but this image seems very American this creating a transnational illusion.
    In the poem Una Espana Joven by Antonio Machado, he creates a very nostalgic poem that craves the Old Spain. It talks about how they were better off and he wants Spain to just wake up and realize how they are. He also makes a Catholic image with blood which could make it seem as him emphasizing the importance of Catholiscm but instead of submerging yourself in it and taking in the body of Christ he wants to wipe it clean. He longs for this Old Spain and thinks about this turbulence that Spain created and the discontent he feels toward it.

  10. We had the lovely pleasure of watching Bunuel’s Viridiana this week in accordance with the topic of Italy’s influence on Spain with neorealism. I had heard about the film in different contexts before (I am a huge Bunuel fan), but never had the opportunity to actually see it. After the screening, I could only think of how daring a filmmaker Bunuel was. He already made Un Chien Andalou and left Franco’s Spain for other countries. But then he returns, and makes this one while Spain is still under Franco? Who else could get away with having a would-be nun turn away from the convent at the home stretch? Who else could get away with having the Hidalgo figure drug a woman who rejected him (not to mention she was his niece)? Who else could parody the last supper with a group of outcasts? Who else could away with filming a girl from the waste down for longer than he should? Who else could end a Spanish film with a clear erotic triangle playing cards to Shimmy Doll by Ashley Beaumont? He was a surrealist, a satirist, and a fetishist, who did not shy away from displaying it all. Not to mention he borrowed one of the more disturbing themes of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), a blonde beauty being transformed by a man to look like his previous love.

    The film plays with good and evil. I would go as far to say that no one in the film is inherently evil, even if they do evil things. Don Jaime is clearly a gentle man who lets his primitive and sentimental side get the better of him. The beggars only behave as they have been taught by society over and over again. Then there’s Viridiana, who tries her best to do good for people who simply cannot accept it. One connection with Neorealism is the ending, even though there are surrealist elements to it. It’s left pretty open-ended, but we can assume what is about to happen. There is nothing tied up with the characters or the story. We are left wanting to know more. The film was made against the grain of most of what was going on in Spanish Cinema at the time. This was not a historical epic to perpetuate the narrative that Spain had returned to its golden age from centuries before. This was not meant to be Bunuel’s joyous homecoming to Fascist Spain. It’s meant to be dark, scandalous, and humorous in an amusement sort of way. He makes connections with Italian and American cinema, but firmly roots it in Spanish culture. It’s clear why it was immediately denounced by the Vatican and banned in Spain, even though he never intended for it to be blasphemous. It’s also clear why the film won the Palme d’or at Cannes. It’s provocative and unforgettable. How many of us see the other dog tied to the cart going the opposite direction?

  11. The concept which we explored this past week is Italian neorealism and its influence on Spanish film. Bunuels’ Viridiana was a powerful film that explored neorealism through aspects such as amateur local actors and filming on site. Bunuel was excommunicated from Spain essentially after Franco’s regime took over, but he decided to return to Spain to ensure that his film was filmed on site. These neorealist ideals build a film which explores the concepts of religion vs. modernity and good vs. evil. Even scenes of potential rape in the film feel as though they are not done with complete malice. Don Jaime is a tender loving man that has never gotten his opportunity to experience love to its fullest and feels that his niece can fulfill that. The fact that Don Jaime can not actually go through with the assault shows that he does not need the full affect of love making to achieve his happiness, he just needs someone to end his paralyzing loneliness. Good and evil are blurred together throughout the film as almost any act of evil is done by someone who is not purely evil and sympathy can be felt for why they did what they did. Religion versus modernity is a theme that is explored throughout the film as well. At the beginning of the film, the main female character is a nun who lives in a covenant and does not even expose her hair. After her modern half cousin comes to town, she slowly begins to fall in love with him and become more modern culminating in her coming to his room with her hair exposed to play a classic Spanish card game as American Jazz music is playing. This transformation to modernity away from religion is a theme that Bunuel explores throughout this film by various religious symbols placed in outrageous situations such as the Last Supper scene that the drunk homeless people recreated before destroying the house and committing various sins. These scenes and many other were told to Bunuel that they must be censored but he naturally did not listen to them. It was interesting that Bunuel agreed to change the last scene in which Jaime seduces the nun, what impact did the final scene? Does him not fully seducing her mean more ?

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