LAND AND FREEDOM, set during the Spanish Civil War, relates in a thoughtful, detailed and intimate way the idealism, confusion and cost of that conflict, a gallant, doomed romance on a national scale. Directed by Ken Loach, written by Jim Allen, it was shot in Spain around Aragon. When released in 1995 it drew positive reviews, with some marked dissenting opinions, but barely grazed the box office, having no star players to draw attendance. Like the volunteers who made their way across oceans and mountains to help during the war, this rare and rewarding drama requires some seeking to discover. *
The death of her grandfather leads a young woman in England to go through his old letters and documents. They reveal that as a young man in the mid 1930’s, ‘David Carr’ (Ian Hart) was a member of the Communist Party who volunteered to go fight against the fascist coup in Spain. He joins a militia outfit composed of Spaniards and men and women of several countries. The political labyrinth aspect of the war is as galling as the combat, and idealism is tested to the breaking point. Adding to the emotional toll exacted by an unequal struggle, David becomes involved with ‘Blanca’ (Rosana Pastor), comrade in arms.
Eloquently written, acted with refreshing naturalism, the movie has a cumulative emotional charge that is all the more powerful because it doesn’t tarry to indulge in cheap romantic clichés or bogus “exciting” action scenes. The small-scale fighting segments carry sufficient impact (bullets don’t favor favorites), and the sense of camaraderie and commitment is palpable. There’s a lengthy segment of impassioned discussion about policy and effect that is beautifully conveyed, a rare instance of writing & direction that challenges the audience to listen and think, and better, actually assumes they’re able to without being “told” how to respond. It’s a mature and moving work.
Running 109 minutes, accompanied by a felt score from George Fenton, with a supporting cast including Tom Gilroy, Icíar Bollaín (a renowned director as well as actress), Marc Martinez, Frédéric Pierrot, Eoin McCarthy, Suzanne Maddock.
* Some criticism was leveled by veterans of the International Brigades, feeling the movie’s focus on the POUM militia, a quixotic group in a sideshow front, gave a distorted picture. Still other veterans and survivors disagreed with those critiques, so the differing reactions from actual participants, their passions still smoldering six decades on, at the very least reflect the complicated nature of the war, something the movie takes pains to portray. As the opening credits say, this “a story of the Spanish Revolution.” Not THE story.
Andy Durgan, historical advisor for the movie: “Today, when those who “know better” never tire of telling us that all is lost, nothing can be changed and nothing can be done, rather than forget about the past we have every reason to remember it. Revolutions mark the highest points in human history, when ordinary people, for once, really take control of their own destinies”….”Loach is saying the fight against fascism and the fight to end the system that breeds it, the fight for Libertad, goes on.”