A Franco Retrospective
by Walter Ankner
Today, we sit 45 years from the end of Francisco Franco’s reign of power in Spain. The country, despite its picturesque appearance and new Constitution, still has scars from the regime. Nonetheless, the Spain of today is very different from the Spain of 45 years ago, as the nation has made significant progress towards liberalization with its legal separation from the Catholic Church and admission to the European Union.
The 2019 film The Endless Trench exemplifies just how different the two Spains have become. It is set right after the bloody Spanish Civil War, the most recent major conflict of that scale in the country. This film actually came as a recommendation from my current Spanish professor. She has often talked about the scar that the Civil War has caused on Spanish society even to this day, even though nearly every Spaniard alive today was born after the events of the war. Of course, this Civil War was lost by the Spanish Republic and Franco’s fascists assumed power over Spain, which is what the majority of the film puts a focus on.
The film puts an emphasis on this fleeting hope that Higinio and his wife Rosa carry. Towards the end of the Civil War, they hold onto the hope that the Republic will recover and push Franco back. They hold onto hope that the allied victory over fascism in Italy and Germany would spell the eventual end of fascism in Spain as well. However, as years turned to decades, there was almost no use hoping. We see this in his conversations with the gay man who sneaks into his house, Enrique, that during the Second World War, he still holds and wants to spread the political beliefs that got him in trouble during the Civil War in the first place. Decades later, he advises a friend of his son Jaime that he should not waste his time on “the secret meetings.” He says ultimately, it is not worth the consequences. Obviously, not every Spaniard was completely hidden away in a hole, but during those 33 years under the regime, that constant fear of expression was a universal feeling.
This is very clearly an anti-Franco film. As one would imagine, this film could not have been produced during the Franco regime. A Republican protagonist would have been thrown out just based on concept because of the censors imposed by the Franco regime. However, this did not stop critical films from releasing, but they had to hide behind much more veiled allegories than did The Endless Trench.
One such film is 1973 film The Spirit of the Beehive. It follows a young girl by the name of Ana living in an isolated Spanish village following the civil war. Ana finds herself fascinated by the film Frankenstein and spends much of her time looking for the monster’s house. During her search, she finds a wounded Republican soldier. She cares for him until he is discovered and promptly shot by fascist officers. On the discovery of his death, she runs away, angered at her father. This film, like The Endless Trench, is an allegory for much of the repression the Spanish people had felt during the regime.
Despite being thematically similar, these films arise from two different processes, which completely shape how these films are developed over time. The Endless Trench was produced during a time when dissent against the previous government was not only permitted but encouraged. There is a real desire for Spain to shake and reflect on their former fascist label in order to show commitment towards its liberalization. Even in just its funding, we can see that Spain wants a film of this nature to be produced. It is funded in large part by both the national government of Spain, as well as in part by the Basque Country and Andalusia individual governments. While nowadays a pro-franco, anti-democratic film such as much of what was produced during the regime may be legally permitted, there is no chance that it would see the same kind of funding that this pro-republican, anti-Franco film.
The Spirit of the Beehive takes a different approach to its portrayal of fascists. We can see this in the depiction of Ana’s father, a fascist veteran, but avid beekeeper. The father is shown as a gentle figure, an image that Franco had begun to desire as he sought increased relations with the European Economic Community. It is important to remember that this film was released just 2 years prior to Franco’s death and the end of the regime. Much of the restrictions put in place had been lifted (as we actually saw in The Endless Trench with access to commercial goods and the grant of amnesty to Higinio). Spain actively sought to export its culture, which is why so much film from the likes of great directors such as Carlos Saura was greenlit and made accessible outside of select viewings. In contrast, the most well known film from the 1940s and 1950s in Spain was Race, written by Franco himself, and was pure propaganda that was completely inaccessible outside of the regime.
The Endless Trench is very much a contemporary film despite it being set over 45 years ago. It, thanks to the significant overhaul of the Spanish government, is a film that could only be made during this current era. Maybe some of the themes are present in older films, but the finished piece is something specifically modern.
- Archibald, David. “The War That Won’t Die.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 July 2000.
- Carlos Jerez-Farràn (2014) “Foucault, San Jerónimo, y la mujer fatal: apropiación y subversión de la iconografía religiosa en El espíritu de la colmena de Víctor Erice,” Hispanic Research Journal, 15:2, 149-166.
- Erice, Víctor, director. The Spirit of the Beehive. Elias Querejeta, 1973.
- Erice, Víctor. Víctor Erice in Madrid, 2000.
- Garaño, Jon, et al., directors. The Endless Trench. Netflix, 2019.
- Higginbotham, Virginia. Spanish Film Under Franco. University of Texas Press, 2014.
- Igartua, Juan José & Páez, Darío. ART AND REMEMBERING TRAUMATIC COLLECTIVE EVENTS: The case of the Spanish Civil War, 1997
- McDearmont, Ryan. “The Spirit of the Beehive.” Bee Culture, 27 Feb. 2018.