A Time Not to Kill: Global Genres, Local Texts (14-16 November)

This week we discussed cinematic trends between 1992 and the present time, paying particular attention to the re-articulation of the “national” in Spanish cultural production.  The film by Julio Medem we watched today, Wednesday, entitled Los amantes del círculo polar / Lovers of the Arctic Circle and the novella When a Snake Stares at a Bird / Sugeak txoriari begiratzen dionean by Bernardo Atxaga (pseudonym of Jose Irazu) both address this rearticulation from the point of view of two Basque artists.

By Saturday November 18 at 5pm please post a comment on how you see these two text represent the rearticulation of the Spanish national.  This is the last blogpost of this semester.  Kudos, all those of you who have contributed to our Scholarblogs page have done a terrific job posting.

13 Replies to “A Time Not to Kill: Global Genres, Local Texts (14-16 November)”

  1. During this week, we focused on cinema and literature that rearticulated the Spanish national.

    I found it really interesting during Tuesday’s discussion how we talked about which companies are owned by whom and seeing how all the arts are generally controlled by the same parent company. This also shows how easy it would be for them to control what information is or is not distributed. This is another way of showing how influential the arts really are. Also shows how intertwined every part of the arts is. For instance, a parent company can own a movie distributor and a publication house with it all being under the same big umbrella.

    Comparing the film to When a Snake Stares at a Bird, we drew similarities from both to the national. The way these characters related to each other like how Ana is similar to the grandfather from the novella or how Otto is the bird all draws a parallel to refiguring which is how it comes back to nationalism. Another recurring element in Spanish cinema that was seen in this film also was the gaze. This film rotated between Ana’s gaze or Otto’s gaze or both. It is interesting to see how during this century, an ample amount of films used the gaze to show a specific character’s point of view. It was most evident at the end, when Otto’s face was seen in Ana’s eyes representing their love and how it is imprinted into her gaze.

    Bringing it together, even in the late 20th century, films and literature could be tied back to the Spanish national.

  2. The literary and filmic Basque artworks that we looked at this week both exemplified the reshaping of Spain after the repressive years and the overly liberal and chaotic years that followed. After these vastly differing years Spain kind of settled down and attempted to find its new identity in a world that was quickly becoming more and more connected. Finding Spain’s new identity was no easy task since the different regions of Spain vary greatly as they do in many countries such as the United States. An Andalusian and a Catalan for example may speak a completely different language yet they live inhabit the same country. The Basque region is unique in Spain as it was always seen as the outcast people who revert to terrorism to make its voice heard. The identity of the outcast and the one who is different is perfectly portrayed by the male protagonist in the film and the grandfather in the short story.

    In the film Lover’s of the Arctic Circle, Otto was always a quiet outcast who thought differently from everyone ranging from the other kids to his own parents. This to me represents the Basque region of Spain as it was in uncharted waters being able to express itself in a new Spain while attempting to discover what its true identity is. Throughout the film he struggled to find his own identity while falling in love and going into uncharted waters with a girl that is almost seen as his sister. In my view this unorthodox relationship depicts the unorthodox growth of Spain in modern times which can be seen up to this day as there is a serious Catalan succession movement while the government is trying to keep Spain all together. The unclear ending to me serves to show the unclear direction of Spain’s identity as a whole as previously repressed groups are now speaking out and wanting to make their own identity while Spain’s government is attempting to keep it all together.

    The short story has a similar path as the film, but it does not develop a full chronotope or characters. The surface level similarities can be seen with the boy falling in love as Otto did and struggling to understand these uncharted waters at a young age, but the grandfather represents an underlying similarity that has a much more powerful meaning. Similar to Ana in the film who believes that Otto is inhabiting her fathers soul, Sebastian believes that his grandfather can talk to animals. The short story hints that he can, but the author leaves it unclear to revert away from magical realism and present the same confusion that Ana felt about Otto to the reader and Sebastian. This confusion symbolizes the lack of national identity in Spain as the struggle between modernity and tradition reverberates throughout Spain in every aspect of society ranging from politics to the arts.

    1. When examining the narratives of Ana and Otto in Lovers of the Arctic Circle and the grandfather and boy in the novella, one can see that there is a similar refiguring of the national that is occurring in both works. I thought the ideas that Ethan wrote about Otto possibly being a microcosm for the Basque region of Spain were particularly interesting. In the film, various characters describe Otto as “weird,” saying he does things that nobody, not even his own family, can understand. Because of this characterization, Otto becomes lovably misunderstood in his transition from youth to adult, more specifically in his confusing romantic relationship with Ana. Their entire complex relationship does seem parallel to the uncharted waters that Spain was moving through at the time.
      While I do agree that there are certainly similarities in the relationship between Otto and Ana and Sebastian and his grandfather, I also think that there are significant links between Otto and Ana’s relationship and that of the bird and snake. The grandfather explains to Sebastian that he had to throw a rock at the bird, not to harm the bird but to free the bird of the snake’s spell—to save the bird he actually had to distract the snake. In Otto and Ana’s relationship, Ana is mesmerized by Otto’s presence. She believes that Otto is a reincarnation of her father, and there is something of a magical bond between the two. While she exists under some sort of spell in his presence, the two also have a sort of magical method of communication, which is almost animal-like, seen when Ana tells Otto to say goodbye in her head and he turns around and does so outside the car.
      A final important parallel is in the elements of time. There is no chronotope in the novella, while in the film there is a theme of alternating perspectives and the resulting cyclical nature of time, one that breeds ambiguity. The changing perspectives and circuitous feeling of passing time brings an element of both uncertainty of the future and fragmented recollections of the past as seen by Ana and Otto, an appropriate combination given Spain’s realistic socio-political circumstances at the time. The real-life period of dreaming futures and remembering is thus presented in the narrative relationship between the perspectives of the two.

  3. The “episode in an eternal fight” presented in the initial image of When a Snake Stares at a Bird has a strong contrast with Medem’s narrative construction. This stylistic abrupt and violent changes in the expectation of the plot line has a direct impact on the viewer by forcing them to reassess their own positions of comfort within a seemingly predictable end tinged with the aura of melodrama. In both Atxaga and Medem’s pieces there is a play with the themes of genealogy, expectation and nature(as an inescapable force/laws dictating a fate).

    In Lovers of the Arctic Circle, the use of coincidence is idealized while offering almost magical happenstances that interconnect the characters through country borders and time periods(eg. the etymology of the name Otto, the connections between Spain, Germany and Finland, etc.)There is not only an stylistic independence of the film not using any form of national Spaniard indicators except that of the language and setting, but there is also an independence to the female figure which has not been present in the previous films we have seen. The female figure is seen and heard as a subject with agency in regards to her profession, sexual endeavors and geographical position. All of the mentioned characteristics reaffirm the film as belonging to a time period in cinema that presented a re-signification of the Spanish identity. Atxaga’s story also plays with the narrative expectation as the last scene offers a short peace that ends with an opening to mystery, as the grandfathers location is not to be found. This story as being originally a Catalan piece also defies the traditional meaning of Spanish and asserts itself into this new global context.

  4. The film Lovers of the Arctic Circle and the novella When a Snake Stares at a Bird demonstrate the re-articulation of Spanish nationalism in the 1990s by introducing the ups as well as the downs of relationships. Before, a majority of the films and literature we studied only focused on the bad, or the good things were clouded with a fog of doubt and negativity. The film and novella we analyzed this week show how Spain is more focused on the good things in life, like first loves, yet they are careful to keep the content balanced.

    Spain’s progress towards modernization and happiness is seen in Lovers of the Arctic Circle through Otto and Ana’s love for each other. The audience is able to grow with these two characters and see how their love blossomed for one another. In all of the other films from this semester we have seen people in unhappy relationships, which led them to have affairs, become depressed, or turn to drugs as a solution. Although Ana and Otto’s relationship was not perfect or even functional at its peak, they were happy together and genuinely loved each other throughout the entire film. Even when Ana dies, the audience can tell that she takes her love for him with her. The ending of the film is sad, but Medem was able to represent a time where possibilities are endless and hope is unlimited, which reflects Spain after Fascism ended.

    These same themes can be seen in Atxaga’s novella When a Snake Stares at a Bird. His focus is on a fourteen-year-old boy named Sebastian and his path to finding his identity in the small town of Obaba. Similar to the film, we follow Sebastian on his journey of love from the first time he sees Mariatxo to their first kiss. The story is also surrounded by his grandfather’s unhappiness and longing to go to Terranova, but the readers are still able see Sebastian’s time in Obaba as a positive experience. One re-articulation of Spanish nationalism in the 1990s is that it is viewed without sadness or fear.

  5. Bernardo Atxaga’s “Two Basque Stories” explores the Spanish identity through a teenagers visit to the countryside. He writes, “The young man who had just arrived form the city sensed something like envy or admiration in the looks of those quite men who hardly knew the world, and he felt important,”(93, Two Basque Stories). This moment captures a naïve fourteen-year-old’s perception of the townspeople in Obaba. They are ignorant because they are from a small town, and by the same reasoning must be jealous of anyone from the city like him. This arrogance that comes with the being from the city seems to be a learned behavior from his father. Axtaga writes, “ ‘The blood doesn’t reach his brain very well’ his father would say after every dinner where the conversation turned to the ups and downs of his mothers family from Obaba,”(84). This suggests that his father habitually mocks the people of Obaba, and it would appear to have some effect on Sebastian’s identity as a Spaniard. Lovers of the Arctic Circle explored a Spanish identity that was far less judgmental of people from small towns and more internationally inundated. In fact, many characters in the film ended up leaving Spain for Finland or Australia. The film intertwines destiny with an international Spanish identity. One way in which the film does this is it creates an inescapable contact between Spain and Germany. The first is the Grandfather saving the German paratrooper during World War II. Germany and Spain interacts again when the German marries a Spanish woman, and the Spaniard marries a German woman. One joking way in which the movie invokes this parallel is when Ana’s mother starts a romantic relationship with another man named Alvaro. She jokes about the coincidence that her husband and the man have the same name, but it is later revealed to not be a coincidence, but the inescapable motif of destiny within the film.

  6. On their search to discover their own identities, Otto and Ana refigure their national identities. They do not reinvent their national identities, instead, they refigure them. The director’s choice of a distant setting, far from his homeland, universalizes the narrative and encourages his characters to find their own identities separate from that of their nation. The film incorporates many elements, such as the film’s alternating perspective between Otto and Ana, which function to humanize the characters and bring the viewer along as they form their identities.

    The circular nature of the film is evident in that the sequence at the beginning of the film is the same as the ending sequence, in the main characters’ palindromic names, and in the repetition of many elements (recurrence of the red bus visual). The film begins and ends with Otto’s image reflected in Ana’s eyes, which suggests that Otto and Ana’s connection transcends death.

    As in “When a Snake Stares at a Bird,” which emphasizes the transcendental connection between humans and animals in Basque culture, Otto and Ana are connected through nature. For example, their rooms are connected by their garden. Each of their windows leads to the garden, which is how they reach each other. Their strong connection to nature is seemingly shattered in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. In the urban environment of the Plaza Mayor, despite their closeness in proximity, they are worlds away. They can only find each other in natural settings. They are looking for each other in the most natural environment, the Arctic Circle, which ends tragically. They reunite after Ana dies, yet, their connection persists as Otto continues to live in her eyes. Their surviving relationship is shown cinematically, through Otto’s image reflecting in Ana’s eyes, and through Medem’s inclusion of the two endings. The first ending is entitled “Ana’s Eyes” and it shows her perspective of the events. In her death, she reunites with Otto, which is her last wish and imagined ending. The second ending is entitled “Otto in Ana’s Eyes,” and it shows Otto’s perspective of the events. It is fitting that the film ends with their subjective perspectives, as it has shown their subjective perceptions of the events.

  7. The Basque pieces we studied this past week mirrored each other stylistically, and perhaps in some ways, metaphorically, in ways that I think are unprecedented in this course. I thought that “Lovers of the Arctic Circle” represented two characters who desperately tried to manipulate their circumstances in order to be together, yet their movement in time and space disallowed their reunion despite odd coincidences. For me, the film symbolized the inevitability of reality, and that even the most magical or mystifying of situations can simply be a product of an odd reality. Ana and Otto end up in the same place, only after it’s too late and she’s died, due to incomprehensible circumstances. This reminded me of “When a Snake Stares at a Bird” in the way the mystifying and unworldly can be simply a circumstance of the way reality is. The young boy and his grandfather have a relationship similar to that of Otto and Ana in the sense that their relationship transcends ordinary circumstances and the grandfather’s ability to communicate with animals seems unrealistic yet true–a blip in reality. Both of these texts were unusual and played with your expectations as an audience member.

  8. This week our discussion was focused on the revival of the Spanish national post destape period. Both the film, Lovers of the Arctic Circle by Medém , and the novella When a Snake
    Stares at a Bird by Atxaga both focus on relationships and use it as a mode for discussing and bringing back Spanish nationalism in the 1990s. Ana and Otto’s relationship was not always perfect but it built on a genuine love for each other. This corresponds to the state of Spain post Franco, as many citizens were still adjusting to the new political democracy Spain was becoming but they still had national pride. In their quest to find each other Ana and Otto undergo a self-actualization process, similar to Spain in its developing stages. This also relates to the text as Sebastian also has romantic interactions with Mariatxo. His grandfather represents a state of unhappiness that is emblematic of the minority in Spain because people were still grappling between tradition and modernity. Both the text and the film bring back the Spanish national filled with positivity and love for the nation.

  9. In this unit, we discussed the reconfiguration of a Spanish national identity through the Basque culture of the 1990s. The Basque culture was characterized by a liberal freedom after the repressive, Fascist regime fell in Spain.
    This theme was present within the film Lovers of the Arctic Circle by Julio Medem and the novella When a Snake Stares at a Bird by Bernardo Atxaga.
    Otto and Ana both played to the beat of their own drums, independent of their parents, yet found solace within one another. Both protagonists exemplified the Basque period in the sense of their freedom, free thought, and sexual liberation. Ana, especially, tore apart any previous constructs. Even at young age, she was forward and strong-willed. This was seen as she initiated both conversation with Otto during their car rides to and from school and their intimate relationship. She, too, made her life decisions with herself in mind. Moving to the Arctic Circle, a place she loved from a young age, alone showcased an extreme level of independence: she was not restricted by the traditional, routine way of life (marriage, becoming a housewife, following the orders of a man she may not truly love—seen in What Did We Do to Deserve This?). Of course, she longed for Otto to meet her there and hoped this would happen on coincidence; however, her decision to move there in itself was exactly unchartered territory characterized by the Basque period. Ana’s character, therefore, shed the repressive veil Spanish women were wearing during the Fascist regime.
    They communicated similarly to how the animals and humans within When a Snake Stares at a Bird did: implicitly. The love story within When a Snake Stares at a Bird, too, was just was pure as Ana and Ottos. It was untainted by any repression.

  10. This week we talked about the Basque culture in Spanish history and watched the movie “Lovers of the Arctic Circle.” This time period in Spain was after the repressive and liberal years. It’s interesting to see how the Basque culture evolved with the readings and the movie. Basque culture was different than others because it was a very unique place with their own culture, language and location that was different than others. In the film, Otto was similarly, different than others. In a way that can relate to the uniqueness of the culture. He didn’t really speak much but was true to himself. This movie was also significant for the amount of coincidences that occurred. There were many geographical locations involved like Germany, Finland, and Spain and there were chances for Ana and Otto to meet each other but just never did. This also brings up gaze and how there are many ways of viewing several parts of the movie. Some of the scenes have two separate endings which makes it up to the viewer to decide which scene they want the movie to go towards. In class we talked about how this wasn’t a new Spanish identity but just going towards a new nationalism. This does not have a specific name but just a repositioning of the last nationalism. This is significant because it includes the Basque culture and all that it entails. Similar to these themes, the reading “Snakes Stares at a Bird” focuses on a young boy trying to find his identity in a small town. There are also themes of love, searching for happiness, and identity issues. This all just leads back to Spain trying to reposition their nationalism.

  11. This week, we explored the meaning of loss of identity and how someone, or how a nation, navigates finding their identity. In the film Lovers of the Arctic Circle, Otto struggles to find his identity growing up, even more so after his mother dies. This can relate to Spain as a nation as well; Spain is transitioning back into a socialist nation, and as Pavlovic states, “the traditional left and right parties’ agendas were blurred within the Spanish national political space,” showing the struggle between the two frontiers of politics in Spain and how they began to lose focus on their identities. Yet, Spanish film gradually became a vessel of economic exchange in the 1990s, and allowed directors to be more free with their language and cultural expression throughout their films. Therefore, this opened doors for directors to express new identities for Spain, in which Julio Medem utilized themes of destiny and intertwining fates as a way of portraying Spain’s own identity and destiny throughout the film.

    In Lovers of the Arctic Circle, not only are there themes of destiny and fate, but also of melancholia, which is a state of continuous mourning of loss despite the passage of a large amount of time. We can see that Otto experiences melancholia over the loss of his mother for the rest of his days, and then also must deal with the death of Ana. This can be paralleled to how some citizens in Spain often say “fue mejor con Franco”. They mourn the loss of their leader, because they view society as worse off without fascism. Yet, Medem forces his audience to consider multiple viewpoints of fate and experiences through Ana and Otto’s different perspectives, thus evoking his personal views on Spain and how the country can develop different historical memories of events and how they are affected in the future.

  12. Palindrome was the word that kept dancing in my head during this week. The names of Otto and Ana are both palindromes and one could argue the the entire film Lovers of the Arctic Circle acts as a palindrome. It tells their story in focused sections usually side by side leading to the same event. One of them is told through Otto’s eyes and the next through Ana’s. After seeing both sides, we see what events lead to the next and how each one ends up how they do. It makes you think about how lives can change entirely with the smallest change in detail; that when you take a step back, everything that occurs is coincidental. Neither character really believes that when they’re young. They believe in fate and a supernatural existence. It’s only as they get older that they begin to realize the power of their own agency, but which is then again questioned by Medem until the end.

    The film came out in the late 1990s, which was still a transitional period for Spain to socialism. Spain was dealing with a loss of identity. It had trouble understanding what it stood for. It had been under Francoism for so long that it forgot how to behave. All of the characters deal with a loss of identity and the continuous transitional periods of their lives. In “When a Snake Stares at a Bird,” Sebastian is going through the transition from boy to man. The narrator explicitly states that a couple of times. It is through circumstances around him that this transition becomes possible. Sebastian and Otto are very similar in that sense. Love at first sight defines their lives and all of their motivations. They become mesmerized in the same way that the bird does when it stares at the snake. It can’t take its eyes off it and is left in a trance. It fails to see what is unfolding around it.

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