Joseba Gabilondo: The National Primal Scene: On Spain’s Cinematic Invisibility and the Global Emergence of Basque and Andalusian Cinemas.

By • Apr 5th, 2014 • Category: Atal Berezia, Azterketak eta Azalpenak
     Ocho appelidos vascos-en arrakasta dela eta, hemen argitaratzen dugu gogoeta orokorrago bat, humore berezi honen atzean datzan politika eta historia luzea eta konplexua ulertzen lagun dezakeena, egunkarietako artikulu inpresionista motzetatik haratago. Hots, analisi historiko postmarxista, postkolonial eta feminista/queer bat da, XIX.mendean hasten dena Carmen (1845) eleberriarekin, non Carmen ijitu andaluziarraren bikotea, Don Jose Lizarrabengoa “cristiano viejo de apellidos vascos” den. Ocho apellidos vascos, 170 urteko tradizio honen azken bertsioa da eta seguruenik Carmen-en iraulketa.
     Honako bertsioa oraindik ere erabat orraztu-gabea da. Gabilondok aurrerago atera nahi zuen txukunduta, baina Ocho apellidosek izan duen arrakasta ikusita, dagoen-dagoenetan argitatzen dugu. Gabilondok prometatu digu, udan orraztu, pulitu eta berriro bidaliko digula. Zine andaluzaz irakurri nahi ez duenak, sarrera irakurri ondoan, artikuluaren bigarren erdira salto egin dezake, euskal zineari buruzkora. Hau da ingelesez atera den lehenengotako artikulua euskaraz egin den zinea (Ander, Aupa Etxebeste, Kutxidazu Bidea..) kritikoki eta historikoki aztertuz.
A shorter version of this article appeared in Companion to Spanish Cinema. Eds. Tatjana Pavlovic and Jo Labanyi. New York: Blackwell. (2012, 85-98). This longer version is published with the permision of the publishers. It is a tentative, unedited version. The final, definitive version will appear this summer. It is published now due to the success of the film “Ocho apellidos vascos”

The narrative of Spanish nationalism has been founded on the discourse of the War of Independence (1808-14): a postcolonial narrative appropriated from the Latin American discourses of independence, as a result of which a putative “colonial” Spain liberates itself from an imperialist France (Alvarez Junco). This appropriation, at the same time, represents the end of the discourse of Occidentalism deployed by Spain since the sixteenth century, whereby the Roman Empire finds its culmination in the expansion of the Spanish empire in the Americas. Yet, alongside this occidentalist trend, beginning in the eighteenth century, romantic Europe begins to orientalize Spain and to shape the latter’s nationalist discourse, so that the effects of Orientalism are internalized in the manifold celebrations of Spanish difference and exceptionalism. Spanish nationalist discourse, therefore, emerges at the intersection or clash between the discourses of Occidentalism and Orientalism. [1]

When Almodóvar received the Oscar to the best foreign film in 2000 and claimed that “Spain is different,” he contributed to the intersection of Occidentalism and Orientalism: Spain still was the romantic other of Europe (and now the US)

When Almodóvar received the Oscar to the best foreign film in 2000 and claimed that “Spain is different,” he contributed to the intersection of Occidentalism and Orientalism: Spain still was the romantic other of Europe (and now the US)

When Almodóvar received the Oscar to the best foreign film in 2000 and claimed that “Spain is different,” he contributed yet another performance to the same intersection of Occidentalism and Orientalism: Spain still was the romantic other of Europe (and now the US) and yet it was the sign of a new symbolic conquest of the Americas, a postimperialist claim also embodied by an Andalusian actor , Antonio Banderas, who had represented Latin American and Latino masculinity for Hollywood in the 1990s.

This intersection or clash, due to its historical and violent nature, has a primal scene (Freud), one in which the orientalist and occidentalist discourses come together to produce jouissance: Prosper Merimée’s Carmen (1844). Although the novella Carmen has received a great deal of critical attention (Gould, Hoffmann, Perriam), its visual or scopic structure has not been fully analyzed yet—a structure that predates and shapes its later operatic rendition. Although, Merimée resorts to the synecdoquic trope of the Gypsy qua Andalusian and sets the story in Seville, the focalizing character, the one that gives the point of view to the reader is the Basque don José Lizarrabengoa, who as an old Christian—of “pure race” and universal nobility—stands for the French spectator of the drama: Merimée, the author and intradiegetic narrator, as well as his readers. When Don José kills Carmen, the former stands for the old occidentalist discourse of Spanish conquest, whereas Carmen stands for the orientalist discourse of an othered Spain—in a romantic “anti-foundational fiction” of death and deadly jouissance (Sommer).

There is nothing Spanish about Carmen: Carmen and Don José are the “others” of Spain and, as “others,” stand for an invisible and phantasmatic Spain that emerges from their deadly clash

There is nothing Spanish about Carmen: Carmen and Don José are the “others” of Spain and, as “others,” stand for an invisible and phantasmatic Spain that emerges from their deadly clash

Yet, if Carmen gives rise to the españolada throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—all the way to Fraga’s touristic campaign and Almodóvar’s melodramatic refashioning—there is nothing Spanish about Carmen: Carmen and Don José are the “others” of Spain and, as “others,” stand for an invisible and phantasmatic Spain that emerges from their  deadly clash. They ultimately point to a non-Spanish jouissance as the foundation of a Spanish primal scene: the inevitable decline of Occidentalism and the deadly seduction of Orientalism. This is the primal scene of Spanish nationalism: the gaze of the Spain nation is returned by its others, Basques and Andalusians. This Spanish gaze finds its synecdoquic yet unstable orientalization in the Gypsies and the last glimpses of a bygone imperialist occidentalization in the Basques. The deadly encounter between Basques and Andalusians already shapes the invisibility, the symbolic lack, of a Spanish nation that can only contemplate itself by invoking and annihilating the returning gaze of its others. The void left by the deadly clash of Occidentalism and Orientalism shapes the primal scene of Spanish nationalism. This nationalist look at its own lack, this blind self-contemplation, this gazing into a void mirror, is the basis of the españolada, which serves as the floating signifier of every Spanish nationalist fantasy since the nineteenth century. [2]

The literature of the Restoration, and specially that of the Generation of 98, represents the second important moment in the articulation of the Spanish primal scene and its visual structure of deadly others. The literature of the Generation of 98 must be analyzed not simply as a literary and intellectual concern that even ventures in theater, but as a visual project to remap cognitively Spain, and thus to alter the gaze by which Spain looks at its primal scene. Moreover, this time, it is an anti-cinematic project. The ample travel literature produced by the Generation of 98 must be read as an anti-modernist technology of the gaze that is articulated in opposition to cinema. As Gayana Jurkevich explains, in a first moment, the exploration of the provinces and, specifically, of the Castilian landscape is a new innovative activity developed by Giner de los Ríos and his Institución Libre de Enzeñanza as means to further geology and painting. The Generation of 98 redeploys reactively this exploration as anti-modern activity against cinema and other new visual technologies in order to redefine a new Spanish nationalist gaze. This “anti-cinematic cinema” developed by the Generation of 98 through travel literature plays a central role in the project of resituating Spanish nationalism solely on occidentalist grounds and, in this way, expunge it of any orientalist trace. This anti-cinematic literature aims to recreate an empty Castile—and the small rural town as its “spiritual and intrahistoric” center—as the foundation of a new anti-modernist Spanish Occidentalism.

As Pío Baroja states in his Vitrina pintoresca in 1935, cinema is the main culprit of the dissolution and decadence of the small town and the institution of the family:

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The ample travel literature produced by the Generation of 98 must be read as an anti-modernist technology of the gaze that is articulated in opposition to cinema

actualmente se nota que las fiestas de los pueblos y las capitales de provincia han decaído mucho. La gente no está quieta como antes; va y viene, frecuenta el cinematógrafo y no espera la feria del pueblo con la ansiedad de otras épocas. El cinematógrafo es un lugar en la actividad familiar, en esta familia que lleva camino de descomponerse, que ha dejado el hogar solo porque los dos trabajan en la calle y que tras tomarse unas latas se van al cinematógrafo. (qtd in Utrera, Modernismo 64)

Unamuno counter-poses “el campo” to modernity and cinema; he praises the intelligence of rural time and opposes it to that of a fast, mindless, urban modernity:

Y los que se eduquen a recorrer a ochenta o cien kilómetros por hora y a ver desfilar cintas de películas, no se sentirán hermanos de los que se van al campo a pie, a paso de buey que ara, a ver crecer el trigo. Se pondera la agudeza del entedimiento [sic] de uno diciendo de él que es de los que ven crecer la hierba. El ojo que se hace a la película de cine difícilmente podrá ver crecer la hierba. (qtd in Utrera, Modernismo 64)

Ultimately, the Generation of 98’s vindication of the Castilian landscape and small town are meant to hold a “spiritual empire” over postcolonial Latin America by vindicating Hispanidad and la Raza as the foundations of a new postimperial Hispanic Occidentalism. Although there are few in-depth analysis of the anti-modernist cinematic gaze of the Generation of 98 (Utrera Modernismo), it would not be too difficult to prove that it sets the foundation for the later fascist discourses of falangismo and Francoism. [3]

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[During late Francoism] The symbolic European order imposes over the original Spanish trauma the fantasy of a Spain that is simultaneously oriental and occidental, Andalusian (Gypsy) and Basque. Whereas Andalusia becomes a space of touristic Orientalism, the Basque Country becomes the space from which a “battle” against Francoism is launched in the name of the oldest “nation” of Europe via intellectuals such as Jean Paul Sartre

The final important moment in which the nationalist Spanish gaze and its primal scene are redefined is late Francoism. After Spain abandons the autarchic model of Occidentalism in the 1950s and subsequently opens up to the USA and Europe, a new orientalist discourse, in the form of tourism, undermines the anti-modernist attempt to occidentalize Spanish nationalism undertaken in the Restoration by the Generation of 98. As a result, the historical clash between Orientalism and Occidentalism reemerges as the unbridgeable symbolic order upon which Spanish nationalism is built as an imaginary response to colonial loss and European hegemony. This symbolic European order imposes over the original Spanish trauma the fantasy of a Spain that is simultaneously oriental and occidental, Andalusian (Gypsy) and Basque. Whereas Andalusia becomes a space of touristic Orientalism, the Basque Country becomes the space from which a “battle” against Francoism is launched in the name of the oldest “nation” of Europe via intellectuals such as Jean Paul Sartre. Even the postmodern celebration of Spain’s Europeanness in the aftermath of 1992 still carries an orientalist trace of sexual and passional excess, which is complemented by the occidentalist discourse of the right wing towards Latin America and Africa.

Therefore, the Spanish primal scene and its traumatic inception (the clash of Occidentalism and Orientalism) must be studied in its double nature: as a Spanish nationalist fantasy and as a spectacle against which an Andalusian and Basque cinematic reality and gaze are developed. The Andalusian gaze has always been made invisible by an excessive production of orientalist images of the region. Conversely, the Basque gaze has always been given a central position in so far as it stands for the gaze of a Spanish occidentalist fantasy that renders any Basque trace also invisible. From Unamuno to Savater, from Victor Erice to Alex de la Iglesia, the most important fantasies of Spanish Occidentalism have been created, if not exclusively at least centrally, by a Basque gaze that others its Basque positionality. It is not a coincidence if, after an initial phase of discussion in the late 70s and 80s, Andalusian cinema is formed and promoted in the 2000s, as an almost invisible extension of Spanish Orientalism, whereas Basque cinema moves to Madrid in the 1990s and, in its new location, acquires a centrality that is proportional to its own disavowal of a Basque trace. In both cases, these cinemas are just dismissed as temporary mirages of a single true filmic reality:  Spanish cinema. In turn, Spanish film is articulated as a difficult endeavor that continues to fight a single external foe from its inner national coherence: Hollywood and globalization.


From Unamuno to Savater, from Victor Erice to Alex de la Iglesia the most important fantasies of Spanish Occidentalism have been created, if not exclusively at least centrally, by a Basque gaze that others its Basque positionality

Yet, at a point in which the centralist “devolution” of autonomous power is almost completed and a “normal” Spain seems to appear in the horizon of a globalized Europe, the political goal of any work involved in cultural studies becomes precisely to begin a second devolution: a devolution of centralist devolution. More specifically, in the case of cinema studies, it is important to engage in a “devolution of the gaze,” in order to make Spanish nationalist invisibility visible in its othering activity. This visibility, this devolution of the gaze, would turn the subjects of the Spanish nationalist primal scene incommensurable with Spanish nationalist history. In short, a filmic devolution—a devolution of the gaze—would ultimately open a non-Spanish history inside and outside Spanish history—one that would no longer posit globalization as sole exterior foe.

Andalusian cinema

Although Andalusia qua site of negotiation of Spain’s Orientalization from the golden age of Spanish cinema to our days is noted and discussed by most historians (Delgado 77-100; Utrera, Rutas 135-187; Labanyi, Egea), most contemporary histories do not yet account for a putative “Andalusian cinema.” In so far as historicizing film from Andalusia is concerned, Andalusian cinema does not exist as a historical reality.

Only within Andalusia and thanks mostly to scholars such as Rafael Utrera and Juán-Fabián Delgado, an early debate about what Andalusian cinema emerged in Andalusia in the 1980s. Manuel Carlos Fernández Sánchez writes Andalucía y el cine in 1979; Utrera edits with Delgado Cine en Andalucia (1980); Manuel Carlos Fernández Sánchez publishes Hacia un cine andaluz (1985); finally, Delgado also puts out Andalucía y el cine, del 75 al 92 in 1992.

With the exception of the initiative of a “Certamen-Concurso de Cine Andaluz” promoted by the International Film Festival of Seville in the years 1980, 1981, and 1982, which was marred in scandal (Delgado 40), and the “Encuentros de Cineastas Andaluces” promoted by Andalusí Cine in Madrid in 1984 and 1985 (Delgado 27-8), there is no sustained formation around the idea of Andalusian cinema.

Yet, in 1996, when the discussion around “Andalusian cinema” had abided, Utrera summarized the existence of Andalusian cinema by stating that it was still posited or invoked as a desired or utopian reality,

excepciones aparte, es evidente que no ha existido una genuina producción andaluza, de largometraje y comercial, en ninguna etapa histórica anterior a la actual democracia. . . . El I Congreso Democrático del Cine Español apostó por el reconocimiento del cine de las nacionalidades y regiones y, del mismo modo, en las jornadas del Congreso Andaluz se planteó críticamente el estado de la cuestión y se teorizó sobre la idealidad de un cine realizado desde nuestro aquí y nuestro ahora. . . . Quince años después del Congreso de Cultura Andaluza, los resultados se evidencian más como deseo incumplido que como satisfactoria realidad. (“Andalucía” 27)

When summarizing the production of Andalusian cinema from 1975 to 1996, Utrera only isolates the names of three directors who have filmed more than one film: Gargía Pelayo, Pancho Bautista, and Juan Sebastián Bollaín (27). However, the above publications and directors did not have a significant impact in Spain or abroad. With the exception of J.M. Caparrós Lera’s Cine español: una historia por autonomomías (1996) to which Utreras contributed with an article on Andalusian cinema, there was no discussion of “Andalusian cinema” till the early 2000s, after Benito Zambrano’s Solas (1999) became a phenomenon in Spain and abroad.

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It is important to underline that 2004 becomes the year in which “Andalusian cinema” is “born” and promoted as a “new reality.” “Andalusian cinema” is connected with a form of tourism that redeploys the historical orientalist representations of a romantic Andalusia created by northern Europeans.

A short history of Spanish and Anglo-American criticism on Andalusian cinema is important in order to understand the way in which Andalusian film has been framed. Barry Jordan and Rikki Tomasuno make an explicit reference to Andalusian cinema in their Contemporary Spanish Cinema (1998). After acknowledging that “other autonomous regions in Spain have had neither the infrastructure, finance, planning nor talent to develop their own separate film cultures, at least on the scale of the Basque Country or Catalonia” (201), they discuss Andalusian cinema but only by mentioning Gonzalo Garciapelayo’s Corrida de alegría (1980) and Rocío y José (1982), as examples of an Andalusian localist film with “banal love story”-s (201). Yet, this negative remark does not transcend the framework dictated by the political logic of a Spanish state divided by “autonomías.” This logic requires that every autonomous region be examined for an “autonomous production” of its own, which in last instance confirms a Spanish nationalist understanding of the state and its autonomous-regional logic, including Andalusia. From this autonomous perspective, Andalusian cinema appears as deficient to Jordan and Tomasuno.

In The Moderns (2000), Paul Julian Smith addresses the work of Andalusian Roma group Ketama and dancer Joaquín Cortés as well as films on Gypsy (Gitano) culture by Chus Gutiérrez and Carlos Saura. He uses a three-fold geopolitical divide, city/state/globalization, whereby Seville, Madrid and New York become spaces where Roma/Gypsy culture is deployed and negotiated (162-85); yet Andalusia, the geopolitical location of the artists involved, is not cited or questioned as a locus of politics and culture. The above artists and their production become a symptom of a “global immigration to the Spain that was for so long a nation of net emigration” (162).

In her Spanish National Cinema (2003), Núria Triana-Toribio discusses Basque and Catalan cinema as historical realities (145). However, even though she devotes a long section to Andalusian director Benito Zambrano and his film Solas (1999), she never problematizes the director’s Andalusian location. Instead, she discusses Solas as one of the most original exponents of a new realism or “cine social” in Spain. She further explains that “[T]he latest Goyas indicate that this cinema is widely seen as desirable within the Spanish cinema establishment,” mostly because “films of this kind are believed to bring Spanish cinema closer to European (and thus exportable) cinema and root national cinema firmly in the present” (157). However, the highly melodramatic component of Solas goes unexamined and, thus, its alignment with social realism begs to be reconsidered. If Solas’s non-realist excess of feeling and suffering (Elsaesser) were to be examined, such an analysis would allow us to categorize this film as a new refashioning of older Andalusian-themed españoladas—thus creating a more historical understanding of Andalusian cinema.

Candyce Leonard’s article on Solas, published in the collection Spanish Popular Cinema (2004), follows second-wave feminist concepts of film criticism. Her analysis of the gender dynamics of the film demystifies its novelty and shows its rather conservative gender politics. Yet historical and geopolitical categories , such as “Andalusia,” do not enter her critique. Her analysis is conducted from a universal feminist position that, in its unacknowledged first-world geopolitical synecdoque, ends up reifying a heteronormative, middle-class, white, Anglo-American point of view as only possible critical standpoint.

The inexistence of an articulation of “Andalusian cinema” continues, with rare exceptions (Del Pino), well into the mid 2000s, not only in film history and criticism, but also in the national and local press and institutions. Its beleaguered, sudden irruption in the mid 2000s as a “full-blown reality” must be explained according to a different logic that would have to defy traditional historiography—as the latter does not record such a reality. The sudden and thus “ahistorical” formation of “Andalusian cinema” is the result of the interaction between film producers located in Andalusian, political-cultural institutions whose area of influence and power is precisely the autonomous region of Andalusia, and global film producers who come to Andalusia to take advantage of the locations and of a more consolidated production infrastructure.

In the latest and most exhaustive update on the history of Andalusian cinema, Las rutas del cine en Andalucía (2005), Rafael Utrera proclaims the existence of an Andalusian cinema, after the success of Solas, “un hito en la Historia del llamado ‘cine andaluz’ que mejor sería denominarlo ‘cine de Andalucía’ ” (182). Utrera does not qualify his assertion and, thus, leaves the room open for the inclusion of any production made in Andalusia in his definition (Spanish, global, etc.). Rather than tackling the issue of what cinema in Andalucía means, Utrera takes a positivist and sociological approach, close to neoliberal ideologies of the primacy of the market, and asserts its presence in the midst of a larger visual culture in Andalusia:

la proliferación de empresas nacidas en la última década al calor de los derechos de antena en las televisiones (autonómicas pero también nacionales y privadas) ha convertido a la industria cinematográfica en un segmento más, pero no el único, del denominado “tejido” audiovisual desde el cual se produce toda una gama de productos que empiezan en los “spots” publicitarios y el cortometraje y se continúan en la series para la pequeña pantalla o en largometrajes para ésta y la grande. (Rutas 13)

Before tracing Andalusian cinema’s date of inception, it is important to notice that non-Andalusian film production in Andalusia is promoted earlier than Andalusian cinema by local institutions and media. The Andalucía Film Commission (henceforth AFC), since its formation in 1998, sets as its mission to promote, not Andalusian cinema, but (global) film production in Andalusia. The AFC introduces itself on its webpage using the picture and words of the most “universal Andalusian film personality,” Antonio Banderas:  “I encourage the cinematographic producers to meet Andalusia, Spain. And once there, they will see that my home-land offers a great deal of shooting places and locations, a weather you can’t beat, modern communications linking with the whole World and with a great audiovisual industry.” On the tab dedicated to the AFC itself, the following commercial promotion can be read, wherein no reference to “Andalusian cinema” is made:

Andalusia’s strategic situation allows a wide range of responses to production needs. Our experience in this field lets us offer the professional answer that presents us as the reference point of the international film industry. This will just enlarge the list of great movies shot in Andalusia, ranging from Lawrence of Arabia to the Indiana Jones or James Bond series; Lucas, Spielberg, Lean, Zefirelli or Almodóvar have shot here.

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Andalusian cinema, in its strict sense, appropriates the discourses of Orientalism and Occidentalism in order to redeploy this divide and create a new local and differential filmic culture that exceeds the Spanish nation and its primal scene

Even the Filmoteca de Andalucía, which is created in 1987, has as its mission “la investigación, recopilación y difusión del patrimonio cinematográfico andaluz,” rather than Andalusian cinema. As Delgado states in 1992, “en sus primeros años de existencia no se ha implantado en nuestra comunidad, realizando sus escasas actividades apenas en su ciudad sede [Córdoba]” (32-4). Perhpas the most direct contribution is the cycle entitled “El Cine en Andalucía: identidad y mestizaje.” Since 2008, this institution is part of Dirección General de Museos y Arte Emergente (Culture Council) and is not directly linked to other film initiatives I will discuss below. In short, “Andalusian cinema” is a later coinage, which is not directly linked to official film institutions.

It is only within this larger context of film production and heritage, and once again with a clear commercial aim, that, in 2004, the AFC joins several Andalusian producers in order to promote “Andalusian cinema” not in Spain but in the USA, taking advantage of the initial success of films such as Solas (1999) or Nadie conoce a nadie (Mateo Gil, 1999). Although a detailed historical mapping of this “inception” is necessary, it is important to note that Andalusian cinema is “born” in the mist of what I will denominate “visual excess.” First, it is born in the context of global institutions that exceed both Andalusia and Spain. Second, it is promoted as one of the aspects of a larger film industry in Andalusia that exceeds local cinema. Finally, it is connected with a form of tourism that redeploys the historical orientalist representations of a romantic Andalusia created by northern Europeans.

In 2004, with the help of the Instituto Cervantes in New York, “Andalusian cinema” is presented for the first time as a reality, which then serves as a platform to expand its promotion to Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles in the context of Latino film festivals. More specifically, this initiative is presented under the title of “1 Semana de Cine Andaluz: la Mirada Andaluza.” Although this initiative does not receive a wide reception in the Spanish and North American press, the cultural section of El Mundo presents this event as promoted by the production company Omnibus Pictures and directed by Paco Millán (El mundo). The online periodical Cine por la red lists the following institutions as promoters or sponsors of this initiative: Consejería de Cultura de la Junta de Andalucía, la Cámara de Comercio de Sevilla, la Sevilla Film Office, Docus Andalucía, AEPAA, RTVA, Oficina de Turismo de España in New York, and Extenda (“Arranca”). The budget for this initiative is of 120.000 euros (Molina). Cine por la red also lists the following Andalusian production companies: Palacios Producciones, Imago Producciones, LZ Producciones, and Ficciones del Sur (“La I Semana”). The films shown are: Carlos contra el mundo (2002, Chiqui Carabante), La luz prodigiosa (2003, Miguel Hermoso), Around Flamenco (2002, Paco Millán), Polígono Sur (2003, Dominique Abel), Underground, la ciudad del arco iris (2003, Gervasio Iglesias), and Eres mi héroe (2003, Antonio Cuadri; “La I Semana”). The fact that four films were produced in 2003 shows a reality that is unprecedented in the 1990s: a steady production of Andalusian films. The films are shown in New York and Chicago.

When the initiative is repeated in 2005, María Arango reports the Mayor of Seville, Alfredo Sánchez Monteseirín, already takes part in the preview presentation of the new festival of “Andalusian cinema” in the Feria de Abril. He states that the festival’s goal is to “rendir homenaje a estas productoras y promocionar la ciudad de Sevilla como escenario cinematográfico.” In turn, RTVA’s general secretary (Radio Televisión de Andalucía), Carlos Rosado, adds that “tenemos que crear economías y señas culturales” (Arango). According to Lukor, Paco Millán also celebrates a “nueva realidad:” a yearly production of five Andalusian feature-length films. Yet, even in the context of celebrating Andalusian cinema, Carlos Rosado reverts to the productive discourse of the AFC and singles out the commission as an “ejemplo de desarrollo de la industria en toda Europa” (Lukor). Once again, by reducing Andalusian cinema to Seville, the secretary also stresses that this city only competes with Barcelona in film production and, at the end, Seville “es donde más se rueda actualmente de toda España” (Molina).The films are shown in New York and Miami.

The third and final promotion of Andalusian cinema abroad is conducted in New York and Los Angeles in 2006. According to Estreno de cine, Andalusian cinema is shown at the Instituto Cervantes in New York and in the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF), which, in that year, also gives the Gabi Award to Antonio Banderas. [4] There are no published reports about the reasons for the discontinuation of this initiative in 2007.

Yet, in 2004, another institution is formed for the formation and promotion of the new reality of “Andalusian cinema:” “Muestra de cine andaluz y del Mediterraneo,” also known as Archidona cinema. The film festival gives an award to film directors and actors, mainly from Andalusia, and it showcases films from Andalusia and other countries of the Mediterranean. This festival is also held in other cities in Andalusia as well as in Tetuán (Morocco) and Santa Fé (Argentina). The other important film festival of Andalusia, which, nevertheless, does not have as main goal to promote Andalusian cinema, is the “Festival de cine europeo de Sevilla” created in 2001 as a way to reinvent an older more specialized festival (“Festival de cine y deportes de Sevilla”). It is sponsored by the Seville City Hall, Instituto de la Cultura y las Artes, the AFC, and the Sevilla film Office. Historically speaking, the “Festival de cine iberoamericano de Huelva” is the oldest. The contrast between the Mediterranean, Latin American, and European approach to cinema of the above mentioned three festivals, also shows that the tension between Orientalism and Occidentalism continues to define the Andalusian imagination of film festivals.

Finally, and in order to map out the inception of Andalusian cinema, it is important to emphasize the central role played by the AFC in connecting film and tourism. The book published in 2006 by Carlos Rosado, the director of the AFC, and Piluca Querol, a technician of the same center, makes clear the importance given to this connection: Cine y Turismo. Una nueva estrategia de promoción. The AFC also promotes, in its webpage, a “Cine y Turismo” initiative whereby seven “Movie map”-s (in English on the Spanish website) are presented: 1- El camino de los ingleses, 2- Alatriste…. el mapa de la ruta del rodaje de Alatriste 3- Almería, tierra de cine 4- Carmen, la pasión, 5- El corazón de la Tierra 6- Manolete 7- Sevilla de cine. The historical range from “gypsies” to bullfighters, from Spanish imperialism to the simulation of Hollywood’s Western (Almería), further emphasizes the latent presence of orientalist and occidentalist discourses in this refashioning of a postromantic visual tourism in Andalusia.

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Andalusian cinema points to the excessive nature of image production in Andalusia […] and incorporates older visual traditions such as tourism and Orientalism

Therefore, it is important to underline that 2004 becomes the year in which “Andalusian cinema” is “born” and promoted as a “new reality.” From the above mapping, one can conclude that Andalusian cinema is defined by a visual excess that presents three distinctive characteristics. First, Andalusian cinema, from its inception, is presented in an international or global setting, which unifies locations such as Seville, Tetuán, Santa Fé, and the USA (New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles); this setting points to a geographic excess that transcends the Andalusian autonomous region or the Spanish state. Second, Andalusian cinema is promoted simply as an aspect of a larger economic filmic reality: filmmaking in Andalusia, which is ultimately treated as a commercial activity that attracts Spanish and foreign investment to Andalusia and ultimately points to an economic excess. [5] In this respect, one can differentiate between “Andalusian cinema at large” as global film production in Andalusia, on the one hand, and “Andalusian cinema in a strict sense” as local films made by Andalusians, on the other. The latter could be considered a subset of the former. Third, Andalusian cinema presents an inextricable extra-cinematic nature, which comprises not only films made by Andalusians and/or by global producers in Andalusia, but also tourism, the oldest form of visual culture that defines Andalusia as Europe’s internal Orient at least since nineteenth-century Romanticism. This connection to tourism points to a visual excess that is non-cinematic.

Consequently, one could elaborate three ways of defining Andalusian cinema, which are not contradictory, but point to the excessive nature of image production in Andalusia: they encompass filmic production by Andalusians as well as by non-Andalusian global producers and incorporates older visual traditions such as tourism and Orientalism. The fact that there is not a clear cultural hierarchy among these forms of “film making” in Andalusia, besides the economic one, points to a reality that is different from other nationalist cultures such as the Spanish, the Basque, or the Catalan, in which native production is prioritized and privileged as the center of film culture and commerce—i.e. the cinematic production of the national subject.

Moreover, in its excessive visual and economic formation, Andalusian film addresses, appropriates, and exploits the historical divide between Orientalism and Occidentalism. By foregrounding an “Andalusian reality,” which can be interpreted and consumed outside the Spanish state by first-world consumers from Europe and the USA, Andalusian cinema at large underlines its differential uniqueness. Such a difference is not nationalist; it is the effect of the visual overdetermination produced by the discourse of Orientalism. Yet, by incorporating first-world film producers and consumers as part of this excessive Andalusian visual reality, this cinema also foregrounds the discourse of Occidentalism, whereby the ultimate consumer and viewer of Andalusian visual excess is precisely the western subject: the occidental subject of Spanish, European and North-American imperialism. It is not a coincidence if the subject who, in a most central way, serves as the spokesperson and poster-figure of this divide is Antonio Banderas: an Andalusian actor known for embodying the orientalist Hispanic difference who, nevertheless, works in Hollywood, the new center of filmic occidentalist discourse.

The “ahistorical” and sudden irruption of Andalusian cinema in film history can only be explained as a result of the confluence of local (Andalusian) and global (Europe, USA) interests, which contribution of “Andalusian cinema,” not as an autonomous, national, or regional subset of Spanish cinema, but rather as a different reality that exceeds any Spanish overdetermination and, in last instance, overdetermines historically Spain. This could be the most radical definition of Andalusian cinema: it makes visible the very historical fact that the old discourses of Occidentalism and Orientalism can no longer be represented and contained visually as either Spanish or national. Rather the opposite, Spanish cinema becomes a subset of Andalusian cinema’s glocal excess across the Occidental/Oriental divide.

In the following, I will explore the way in which Andalusian cinema, in its strict sense, appropriates the discourses of Orientalism and Occidentalism in order to redeploy this divide and create a new local and differential filmic culture that exceeds the Spanish nation and its primal scene. Moreover, I will isolate the ways in which this appropriation of the occidental-oriental divide gives rise to a new politics of filmic excess, which Andalusian filmmakers utilize and refashions for their own different filmic and political projects. In order to do so, I will briefly discuss the work of Chus Gutiérrez and Benito Zambrano.

Chus Gutiérrez was born in Granada in 1963 and moved with her family to Madrid when she was eight years old. She is part of the Andalusian tradition of emigration, which nevertheless continues to anchor her historical imagination in Andalusia without being exclusively bound by it. It is important to note that critics such as Rafael Utrera do not list her among the rest of Andalusian directors (Rutas). After directing Sublet (1991) and Sexo oral (1994), she received wider acclaim with Alma gitana (1996). She also directed Insomnio (1998), Poniente (2002), El calentito (2005) and Retorno a Hansala (2008) as well as several TV shorts. In 2009, she received the Premio Archidona Cinema. Although she won the Goya prize to best new director, her films did not received official sanction since. Only with Retorno a Hansala was she nominated for 3 Goyas. She only began to seek the coproduction of Andalusian institutions in 2002 with Poniente.

She tends to build integrated multiple narrative structures, which can range from comedy to melodrama. Her goal is to bring together several characters rather than to focus on a single protagonist (Heredero, La mitad 30). The location of her films oscillates between Andalusia and Madrid. She writes the scripts of her films both alone and in collaboration. With the exception of Insomnio, she has explored political realities where issues of race and gender are underscored by mixing humor and drama, with happy endings that subtend a complex melodramatic structure and style. As Thomas Elsaesser elaborated in his groundbreaking work on melodrama, this genre allows for the representation of complex moments of historical crisis and transition that cannot be represented otherwise, as it founds its representations on an excessive, masochistic apparatus of personal feeling and suffering. Rather than representing an irrepresentable history, melodrama allows the viewer to feel and suffer history in its complex irrepresentability. In this sense, Gutiérrez’ filmmaking represents a very personal and geopolitically situated appropriation and refashioning of the old Spanish melodramatic tradition pejoratively known as españolada. Between Morena Clara (1936) and Alma gitana (1996) there is more continuity than break.

If the protagonist of Alma gitana is male, the female body and character take center place in most of Gutiérrez’s films; they occupy political positions that official history does not recognize, as in the case of a female punk band that performs during the aborted military coup of 1982 (El calentito) or that of a female land-owner in Malaga’s greenhouse industry (Poniente).

Chus Gutiérrez received wider acclaim with Alma gitana (1996) (where she) proceeds by deconstructing the body and performances of the male protagonist Antonio

Chus Gutiérrez received wider acclaim with Alma gitana (1996) (where she) proceeds by deconstructing the body and performances of the male protagonist Antonio

The continuous recourse to the melodramatic structure of excess and feeling with a happy ending allows Gutiérrez to explore the convergence of issues of race and gender. Even in Alma gitana, a film Gutiérrez was hired to direct and was not originally written and developed by her (Camí-Vela 78-9), we can witness a deconstruction of the Don Juan myth through that of Carmen. Yet, the melodramatic celebration of an impossible union allows for a happy ending that remains open and excessive. [6] In Poniente, the returning children of Andalusian laborers who emigrated to northern Europe back in the 50s and 60s (Switzerland) are contrasted to contemporary Magrebian immigrants to Andalusia. As a result, Poniente represents a suffering female subject who gives the viewer an impossible double point of view on the excessive history and geopolitics of migration, while contrasting it to the traditional immobility of the Andalusian patriarchal landowning institution. This excessive point of view of suffering is allegorized by the accidental death of a defiant teenager. The teenager’s father sets on fire the greenhouse of his rival, the female protagonist, unaware that she has welcomed his defiant son to stay in the greenhouse.

By using shot-reverse-shot sequences with eyeline matches in close-up, Gutiérrez establishes a high level of intimacy among the main characters without sacrificing the individuality of the characters—as opposed to over-the-shoulder shot-reverse-short sequences without an eyeline match and a oscillation between close-up and medium close-ups. This strategy, which is present in most of her films, acquires even a higher intensity in her last film, Retorno a Hansala, when many of the shot-reverse-shot close-ups are done with a chiaroscuro lighting that endows the characters with a mythical aura, so as to transcend their individual personal circumstances.

The centrality of an inter-personal filmic structure of intimacy, present in most of her films, is supplemented by a diverse and unpredictable camera work in the rest of the sequences of the films: random high and low angles, single pulling out shots in a film in which the camera otherwise does not pull in or out, black and white sequences which represent flashbacks without a clear pattern or rhythm, etc. This diverse camera work makes her films appear not to have a defined style or technique. Yet, it points to an excessive camera that approaches a melodramatic reality in a singular way from shot to shot, from sequence to sequence.

Similarly, her excessive narratives pull several stories, characters, and locations together, which always come together at the end in a single event: a wedding, a fire, a failed coup d’état, a disappearance. They all point to happy endings, which nevertheless present open-ended situations. The films do not fully resolve them and, thus, do not delete the complex historicity that leads to the open end. [7]

As Gutiérrez deploys this basic melodramatic structure in her films, she further accentuates the divide between the male and female protagonists by emphasizing the centrality of the woman, on the one hand, and the race- and class-divides between characters, on the other. In that way, Gutiérrez moves from the internal Andalusian myths of Don Juan and Don Carmen (Alma gitana) to the external ones of migration between Africa and Andalusia (Retorno a Hansala). By doing so, she further accentuates the orientalist/occidental divide in order to further highlight the historical contradictions that define Andalusia today. Furthermore, she is aware that her own migrant biography gives her a different approach to otherness; as she states in an interview: “Que alguien sea diferente a mí es lo que más interés me suscita en el mundo. Quizás porque nací en Granada, a los ocho años me mudé a Madrid y tuve que adaptarme a una ciudad enorme, a los diecisiete me fui a Londres, estuve un año y volví, a los veintiuno me fui a Nueva York…” (Camí-Vela 77).

The final happy endings of her films only give an excessive position of feeling from which to contemplate and experience the irresoluble historical problems of contemporary Andalusia and Spain, thus further representing class, race, and gender problems. Since Gutiérrez chooses the female protagonists—Andalusian and non-Andalusian—to give an excessive point of view of feeling, her films avoid the narrative foreclosure of the historical problems presented. In this way, her films create a situated position for the viewer, across the divide between Orientalism and Occidentalism.

Even in the most conventional formulation of the problem, Alma gitana, Gutiérrez proceeds by deconstructing the body and performances of the male protagonist Antonio. The climax of this masculine deconstruction takes place when he is being auditioned by a leading female flamenco choreographer who criticizes his dancing. Once deconstructed, Antonio’s male body is re-constructed through a critique that is carried by the two main Roma characters of the film: Lucía and Darío, her uncle. Ultimately, these two Roma characters are deployed as subjects in charge of morally rescuing the non-Roma (payo) male character; they do not transcend their position of other. Yet, the fact the male protagonist represents the Don Juan myth opens the possibility for the male protagonist to abandon his mythic Occidentalist position and to become a new individual beyond myth. [8]

Andalusian director Benito Zambrano’s film Solas (1999), became a phenomenon in Spain and abroad.  [… ] Still responds to the primal scene enacted by Carmen

Andalusian director Benito Zambrano’s film Solas (1999), became a phenomenon in Spain and abroad. [… ] Still responds to the primal scene enacted by Carmen

Benito Zambrano has made two films Solas (1999) and Habana blues (2005). Solas was nominated for eleven Goyas and won five: best new actor, best new actress, best new director, best screenplay, and best supporting actress. However, Habana Blues was only nominated for 4 Goyas, of which it only won two for editing and original score. As stated above, Utrera and other critics, consider Solas “un hito” of Andalusian cinema, as well as a watershed for the Andalusian cinema produced since 1975 (Rutas 182).

Solas, produced by Andalusian Maestranza Films in conjunction with Canal Sur, is set in Andalusia and tells the story of an estranged daughter, María, who leaves her family’s small town to come to the city of Seville but reconciles with her mother—who remains nameless in the film—when the abusive father Paco falls sick and needs to seek medical attention in a hospital in Seville. The daughter is alcoholic and is involved with an abusive truck driver from whom she becomes pregnant. While the mother stays with her daughter, she meets a neighbor: an older nameless widower from the north, Asturias, with whom she has an unspoken romance. At the end of the film, the mother dies and the daughter raises the newborn daughter with the old Asturian widower. Although the film has been hailed as an example of a new realist Spanish film (Triana-Toribio 157), the film is melodramatic and subtends a structure of feeling that relies on the female protagonists who are the subject of male abuse. As Leonard already states, the film is not very realistic. In so far as the film does not create a female point of view, it turns women into the object, rather than the subject, of suffering of abuse and violence—the film duplicates on a identificational level the diegetic violence of the narrative.

The final arrangement between the old widower and the single mother María points to a new rewriting of history, whereby a “good” father figure replaces the old abusive one and, as such, sets the woman, now turned mother, to become the reproductive utopian subject of a new Andalusia that, nevertheless, is haunted by abusive patriarchal figures. Yet, most critics have not commented on the fact that the only non-Andalusian character is precisely the old widower from Asturias. His non-Andalusian accent, Biblical white beard, height, and cultivated dialogue (a sign of social distinction) is contrasted to the female protagonist’s Andalusian father. In this way, violence is situated within Andalusia and the female body, but the subject of the law, the empty signifier that enables the ideological suture of the film, is from the north. Such an ideological resolution relies on a new refashioning of the ideological divide between Orientalism and Occidentalism. Once again, the feminized and desirable south is pitted against a masculine and enlightened north, which nevertheless, in its decadence, points to a new utopian and ideological refashioning of the northern, occidentalist subject, in so far as it no longer is coded as sexual (it is castrated through age). The final shot shows a new “holy family” of Andalusian-Spanish utopia. This film still responds to the primal scene enacted by Carmen, although this time the northern don José is the necessary occidentalist subject that salvages a local orientalist Andalusian scenario of violence and abuse. [9] Yet the decadence and asexuality of the northern father figure, cannot ultimately fix this scenario; it enforces the void and gap that marks the primal scene of Spanish nationalism—hence the success of this local film in Spain, with over 600,000 viewers in its first year (Utrera, Rutas 184).

Benito Zambrano’s Habana blues (2005) film is structured as a musical melodrama of homosocial bonding

Benito Zambrano’s Habana blues (2005) film is structured as a musical melodrama of homosocial bonding

Havana Blues is produced by Andalusian production company Maestranza Films but with the collaboration and support of several Spanish institutions such as Canal +, Televisión Española, Instituto de Crédito Oficial, Ministerio de Educación. In this film, Zambrano moves the occidental/oriental divide to Cuba, a state greatly shaped by the new economic and cultural imperialism of Spanish and North American multinationals. Zambrano also completed his film studies in Cuba, and therefore it is a metafilmic return to his film origins.

A group of Spanish music producers working for a North American company situated in Miami, whose leader is a woman executive named Marta, visits Cuba and becomes interested in the music of two up-coming young musicians who lead a band: Ruy and Tito. At the end, the two Cuban musicians face a life-changing dilemma. They are offered a contract that allows them to leave Cuba and record in Spain but, at the same time, requires of them, as a promotional strategy, to denounce the Cuban regime, and, thus, give up any hope of ever returning to a Castrist Cuba. Ruy stays and Tito leaves for Spain with the producers. Ruy’s wife Caridad also leaves with their children for Miami in a boat at night.

The film is structured as a musical melodrama of homosocial bonding. Although the two women who are in Ruy’s life, his wife Caridad who is about to divorce him and the Spanish producer María, leave for Miami and Spain respectively at the end of the film, the central melodramatic tension is built around the two male protagonists, Ruy and Tito, who fight over the dilemma of leaving for Spain. Finally, they reconcile before Tito’s departure in the concert that they had planned from the beginning of the film. A kiss on the lips, given jokingly by Ruy to Tito, seals the homosocial bond. The last sequence shows a lonely Ruy on the streets of Havana over the soundtrack of the song “Habana blues,” while he sees Tito’s old car drive by as the final signal of his new loneliness.

This melodrama of homosocial bonding and loneliness is organized through a musical structure: several songs are played by Ruy and Tito’s all-male band throughout the film. In order not to stop the fast pace of the action of the film, edited with short shots, Zambrano resorts to a diegetic justification for the longer music sequences that otherwise would slow down the narrative rhythm. The film presents the music scenes as either rehearsals or concerts, but, and this is the structural originality of the film, Zambrano intercuts the music scenes with future events; by intercutting flash-forward shots with music shots, the musical scenes advance the action and do not give the appearance of freezing time as it happens in many musicals.

However, the entire film can also be reread from this basic structure of intercutting flash-forward shots with music shots. Ultimately, the film is a larger musical structure that intercuts music sequences with non-musical flash-forward sequences that advance the action. In short, the entire film is a single musical sequence intercut with flash-forward sequences. As a consequence, the final sequence of the concert, which is the climax of the film, also becomes the climax of the film’s musical structure. In other words, the film does not simply represent music, but rather performs music cinematically: the film itself is a double performance of music and film-as-music.

Considering that the film centers its non-musical sequences on the band’s attempts to secure funding and to land a contract with the Spanish producers for its international promotion, the film lends itself to metafilmic interpretation whereby Zambrano is allegorizing through Cuban music his own attempts to secure funding for his filmmaking. In this context, the film can be read as a global redeployment of the occidental/oriental divide, now resituated in a global context of late capitalism, as the divide between the mulatto and white buddies of the film, as well as the divide between the Cuban performers and Spanish producers. The fact that the film ends presenting the mulatto character alone in Cuba as the subject who makes the ethical choice of opting for staying in his location without sacrificing his music to late-capitalist corporations, speaks of Zambrano’s own option for a situated filmmaking, one that is situated in Andalusia and is loyal to its origins, i.e. Zambrano’s film apprenticeship in Cuba.

Since Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment (1968), the gaze at an old decadent Havana has been rehearsed as a way to underline the alienated position of a Western-identified bourgeois and tourist. This monumental way of gazing at Havana has been retaken more by Gutiérrez Alea himself in his Strawberries and Chocolate (1994) or by other directors such Wim Wenders in his Buenavista Social Club (1999). In Havana Blues, Zambrano’s own Andalusian positionality, already determined—or even overdetermined—by a similar (orientalist) touristic gaze, creates an Atlantic geography, an Andalusian-Cuban geography that, although not void of contradictions, nevertheless points to a more interesting reflection on globalization, tourism, and film. I would posit that Zambrano performs the occidental/oriental divide on an Atlantic geography where Andalusia and Cuba create a postimperialist location that films such as Havana Blues can occupy.

As the above analysis of the films of Gutiérrez and Zambrano demonstrates, their work shows a political tendency to situate themselves in Andalusia. Yet, this act of locally situating their work is achieved by resorting to the excess that defines Andalusian film at large (including foreign producers and tourism). At the same time, they perform the divide that defines this Andalusian excess: the divide between Occidentalism and Orientalism. Rather than foreclosing ideologically such divide by emphasizing tourism or film production as business, following the globalizing and neoliberal tendency of official institutions such as the AFC, these two filmmakers turn the resulting excess into the very positionality that allows them to explore the historicity of the orientalist/occidentalist divide. José María del Pino already in 2003, by referring to the divide between the (orientalist) stereotype and an (occidentalist) normalization that dissolves any stereotype, hints to the location from which Andalusian cinema articulates its cultural politics:

El cine andaluz se enfrenta a un difícil y complejo dilema. Por un lado, la “normalización” en la manera de representar una cultura regional contribuye a la disolución de los mecanismos  tipificadores de la identidad colectiva encarnados por el estereotipo. Por otro, la rearticulación de ciertos estereotipos dentro de una narrativa de intención crítica contribuye a preservar rasgos culturales específicos en peligro de desaparición a consecuencia de la acción niveladora del capitalismo tardío y de la cultura global. (23)

By performing repeatedly this dilemma, at the center of which we have the oriental/occidental divide, Gutiérrez and Zambrano rescue a political and historical identity that not only defines Andalusian cinema but also creates an Andalusian location that exceeds any understanding of Andalusia as part of a national Spain: it exceeds the Spanish nation-state and its primal scene while enabling a devolution of the Spanish nationalist gaze. By going against the grain of the globalizing neoliberal discourse of culture-as-business upheld by Andalusian and Spanish government institutions, which sutures the divide between Orientalism and Occidentalism, Gutiérrez and Zambrano also articulate an anti-neoliberal discourse with a sex, gender, race, and class positionality.

 Basque cinema

Carlos F. Heredero’s work on Spanish cinema can help us situate the contemporary discussion and situation of “Basque cinema.” In his 20 nuevos directores del cine español (1999), Heredero isolates four directors as the core of a new generation of filmmakers that renovates Spanish cinema in the 1990s.

El proceso tomó forma colectiva por primera vez cuando entre 1991 y 1992, cuatro cineastas vascos (Juanma Bajo Ulloa, Enrique Urbizu, Julio Medem y Álex de la Iglesia) aparecen al frente de otras tantas películas que llaman poderosamente la atención y que, para empezar, abren un importante frente de  renovación y casi de ruptura con las historias, el universo temático y las imágenes de lo que hasta entonces se venía conociendo como “cine vasco”. (12) [10]

Most Basque directors begin to be considered simply Spanish and their Basque positionality is marginalized or considered secondary Juanma Bajo Ulloa, Enrique Urbizu, Julio Medem y Álex de la Iglesia

Most Basque directors begin to be considered simply Spanish and their Basque positionality is marginalized or considered secondary
Juanma Bajo Ulloa, Enrique Urbizu, Julio Medem y Álex de la Iglesia

Yet, the above four directors also bring “the end of Basque cinema:” unlike the previous generation of Basque filmmakers (Uribe, Olea, Armendáriz, etc.), the new four directors feel incapable of directing and producing within the constrains established by the Government of the Autonomous Basque Community; consequently, they decide to move to Madrid in order to work with commercial production companies. As a result, most Basque directors begin to be considered simply Spanish and their Basque positionality is marginalized or considered secondary. At this point the discussion of Basque cinema becomes academic and negative; it points to the ‘end of Basque cinema.”

The most telling example of this “end of Basque cinema” would be the case of Julio Medem. He has created the type of film that could be considered auteuristic; his high-quality work and singular formalism places him at the pinnacle of a Spanish cinema that, according to critics such as Heredero, could gain international prestige in festivals and academia. In the case of Medem, and following Heredero, his Basque positionality would be subsumed under a more general one encompassing Spain and Europe. To be Basque would be a simple regionalist accident in a more substantive and normalized reality such as the Spanish. In Heredero’s words, even the film Cows makes of Medem “el cineasta más inquieto y singular entre cuantos impulsan la renovación creativa que vive el cine español a comienzos de la década” (20 nuevos 250).

Yet, this “normalization” of Medem’s cinema as simply Spanish comes to a halt when he directs and produces La pelota vasca: la piel contra la piedra (2003; henceforth La pelota), a documentary about the Basque political situation. Although La pelota received a Goya for best documentary in 2004, it became both the center of an international political scandal and the target of right-wing parties and terrorism-victim groups (Stone 205). The fact that Medem tried to bring together a wide spectrum of Basque intellectuals and cultural personalities to film the documentary, but some on the right wing and on the ETA spectrum refused to collaborate, already worked as an exclusion that the same people later denounce as a sign of partiality for and sympathy towards terrorism (Stone 184, 203).

On a political level, the film managed to bring together, even with the absence of both political extremes (Partido Popular, ETA), a wide range of people that, in reality, would never agree to appear in the same place, let alone dialogue. As the film’s executive producer Koldo Zuazo stated, the premiere of the film at the San Sebastian Film Festival, duplicated this coming together of heterogeneous and opposing people: “a social happening that would never have been possible before La pelota vasca because the political situation was such that these people couldn’t sit around a table together, couldn’t even be in the same room” (qtd in Stone 194). As Robert Stone states, this remains a gendered representation in so far as the suffering subjects of state and terrorist violence (widows, wife’s of ETA members in prison, tortured ex-members of ETA) are mainly, although not exclusively equated with women (200-01). Moreover, the speaking subject is identified mainly, although not exclusively, with men.

Regardless of the “political content” of the film, its approach to Basque reality is radically different from the majority of previous Basque directors and films: it represents Basque reality as politically and historically present. Although at first sight the phrasing “to represent… as politically and historically present” might strike the reader as tautological, redundant, or meaningless in its repetitiousness, Medem’s film brings about an important shift in Basque and Spanish cinema. Moreover, it speaks to the core of the history of Basque cinema.

Most critics who address the issue of the “existence” of Basque cinema emphasize the negative nature of such formation. Those who address the issue from an empirical or sociological point of view (Zunzunegui, de Pablo, Roldán Larreta, Rodríguez) conclude that such a reality cannot be denied but cannot be defined either due to its complexity. As Roldán Larreta states, it is “un concepto indefinible” (5-51*).

From a more psychoanalytically imbued perspective, Jaume Martí-Olivella and I analyze this negativity or indefinable quality as precisely the mark of a history that cannot be explained from a positivist or empiricist perspective. Rather, Basque cinema requires historicizing its contradictory negativity as a form of simultaneous repression and representation. As Martí-Olivella states:

The national imaginary in the case of Euskadi seems to be grounded in a “migrant” or prehistorical [sic] sense of time and place. Home, both in familiar and political terms, is predicated as a form of migrancy, impossibility or invisibility. This cultural condition finds its most common expression in different forms of disavowal. Basque films return uncannily to familiar narratives paradoxically disguised in ghostly and defimiliarizing ways. (18)

Marti-Olivella’s approach to “Basque imaginary” and “home” does not include the Spanish state as the necessary third term of the non-identitarian equation of Basque cinema and, consequently, slips into ahistorical essentialism (“prehistorical”) by relying on nationalist Basque anthropology as the foundational discourse of Basque history and politics. Nevertheless, he does point to the fact that the difficulty or impossibility of defining Basque film is not methodological, as most authors insist, but rather historical. In that respect, Marti-Olivella’s definition is groundbreaking and serves as the basis of this analysis. I have defined elsewhere Basque cinema as a visual practice that strategically performs its own negation as a way to define itself historically as Basque. By doing so, Basque cinema would create a specific form of jouissance that would escape the State (“Uncanny” 277).

photo 14In La pelota vasca, Medem attempts to go beyond such a negative logic and, for the first time, instead of representing a migrant or uncanny history, moves “to represent Basque reality as politically and historically present.” In short, he presents a wide spectrum of people speaking about Basque history and reality. Moreover, one must emphasize that the cinematographic technique that has earned him the label of “high-quality, auteuristic, Spanish, European, etc.” persists in this documentary. The long-take format, which is in itself popular in “talking-head” documentaries, is complicated by Medem in a very original way: many people filmed in medium shots are staged in a mise-en-scene with distant landscapes, which create a form of extreme field-depth. The fact that the talking heads are filmed without establishing long shots that ground the characters on the landscape creates an eerie feeling of disconnection between characters and landscape. The landscape acquires a depth turns renders it another historical subject, a “non-natural” history.

Moreover, and as the sequence with Txetxo Bengoa, Fermin Muguruza, Ramon Etxezarreta, Carlos Garaikoetxea and several other interviewees exemplifies, the contrast between the high-angle position of the camera and the inclined mise-en-scene (an interviewee sitting on the edge of a steep and deep valley or bay) creates a contrast or break between character and landscape, which challenges realistic depictions of characters grounded on a landscape. This break underscores the active participation of the landscape in the documentary. In turn, the active representation of the landscape ultimately negates any “natural” relationship or grounding between character and nature. In short, the de-naturalized representation of the landscape further explores the representational techniques that he has always used since his first film, Cows (1992).

Yet, despite Medem’s continuation of his filmic techniques, La pelota, since its debut, creates an irrational and violent response in many sectors of the Basque Country and the Spanish state, once again repeating the uncanny nature of Basque cinema. Now, however, the negative Basque logic is not represented as uncanny and absent violence within the film. It is outside: in the movie theater and the public space. Here, the film no longer performs the uncanny nature of a Basque location within its representation; rather, it is a part of the Spanish audience who performs that violence in the public sphere of the State. The film does not perform Basque violence; a new form of Spanish violence is performed through and upon the film.

Obviously, this film, as the above discussion of Medem’s filmic strategies and techniques proves, it is not a “realist” or “objective” presentation; the vector of political desire crosses it at its most ontological level. As with any other documentary, this film is also an ideological fantasy (Lacan, Zizek) defined by editing, camera-work, visual materials, and materials left outside. Yet, previous Basque films worked as the othered representations of a Spanish nationalist primal scene: Basque films performed violence as self-negation—a self-negation that in its violence speaks to the Occidentalist axis of the primal scene inaugurated in the nineteenth century by texts such as Carmen.

La Pelota Vasca is also an ideological fantasy (Lacan, Zizek) defined by editing, camera-work, visual materials, and materials left outside [which] disrupts the Spanish fantasy of political normalcy that posits the other (the Basque and the Roma, now also turned into illegal immigrant) as the subject who is supposed to be violent

La Pelota Vasca is also an ideological fantasy (Lacan, Zizek) defined by editing, camera-work, visual materials, and materials left outside [which] disrupts the Spanish fantasy of political normalcy that posits the other (the Basque and the Roma, now also turned into illegal immigrant) as the subject who is supposed to be violent

La pelota stops the logic of a nationalist Spanish primal scene. Rather than enacting a self-negating violence that plays into Spanish fantasies of Basque violence, it enacts a present and speaking historical Basque subject. Such Basque subject disrupts Spanish political fantasies about a primal scene where a Basque other exerts violence. It is the fantastic nature of the political reaction to the representation of a Basque political and historical present enacted by La pelota that remains to be studied in detail.

Given that political fantasies are mobilized to keep at bay traumatic events in history in the form of a primal scene that is repeatedly disavowed and revisited, one must conclude that Basque cinema comes finally to a historical presence and, in doing so, becomes disrupts the primal scene of Spanish nationalism: it disrupts the Spanish fantasy of political normalcy that posits the other (the Basque and the Roma, now also turned into illegal immigrant) as the subject who is supposed to be violent. In short, with Medem’s film, Basque cinema moves from representing itself as uncanny to presenting a non-uncanny history that triggers a traumatic scenario among many Spanish spectators and groups.

Justin Crumbaugh has studied the political fantasies of victimhood that are generalized in Spain after ETA’s murder of Miguel Angel Blanco in 1996 (“Are We All”). Although he traces back this culture of victimhood to the Civil War and early Francoism (381-82*), I believe it is more recent; it dates from the time in which “we lived better against Franco,” to use Vazquez Montalbán’s felicitous sentence. In the late 60s and early 70s, ETA was contemplated in many Spanish sectors of the left as the spearhead of a political opposition against Franco that culminated with the former’s murder of Carrero Blanco—thus short-circuiting Francoism’s political continuation. In the 1990s, when the majority of Spanish political forces considered the late-Francoist period to be part of a past that was “truly past and gone,” [11] the filmic presence of a Basque group of intellectuals and citizens discussing the problem of violence in the Basque Country had the traumatic effect of unsettling not only contemporary discussions on ETA’s terrorism but also Spanish fantasies about its historical foundation: the primal scene upon which the “democratic Spanish state” is built; hence the traumatic reception of Medem’s film.

Yet, this re-presentation of the historical and political Basque present has also elicited a more recent type of filmmaking: Basque cinema in euskara, the Basque language. This new cinema has had new and complex effects in Basque society, which most critics have overlooked mainly because it creates a certain filmic opacity that can be dismissed as uneventful, not formally challenging, parochial or even “costumbrist”—one that does not elicit any Spanish fantasies about a primal scene where a Basque subject is supposed to be violent. This new Basque cinema dates from 2005, when the film Aupa Etxebeste! (Hurray Etxebeste!) is released and heralds an interrupted production of films in Basque, of which Kutxidazu bidea, Ixabel (Show me the Way, Isabel; 2006) and Eutsi! (Hold On! 2007) are the most successful; Ander (2009) and Zorion perfektua (Perfect Happiness, 2009) are probably the best quality product. [12]

Ironically, the first film in Basque which is used, even though diglossically, is Ama Lur (Mother Land, 1968), a documentary that, although recaptures some of the epic tone of the NODO of the time and romanticizes the rural Basque Country, also has a traumatic effect among the Basque audiences. According to several oral accounts of the time, many people in the audience came out of the theater crying; the film had the effect of creating a new political consciousness that turned many spectators into Basque activists. Literally, before 1968, the Basque audience has never seen a documentary about the Basque Country, a visual narration of the Basque Country. Such a visual narration had an overwhelming effect, a traumatic effect, whose ultimate result was political jouissance: an encounter with a Basque Country they had never experienced as symbolic, as socially constructed and represented, due to Francoist repression. Similarly in 1993, when Arantxa Lazkano’s Urte ilunak (Dark Years, 1992) was released, the film went almost unnoticed due in part to the fact that did not speak the political language of Ama Lur and there was not a filmic symbolic order in Basque for any other register but the clearly political.

Only animation film created a symbolic order for children. The first full length feature of the democratic period was an animation film (Kalabaza tripontzia, The Glutonous Pumpkin, 1985); similar animation films were produced for children from 1991 to 2005. Yet, the fact that the most successful film production in Basque had children as its audience, speaks to the fact that cinema in Basque still remains at the fringes of the symbolic and cultural order of the Basque Country. Childhood is precisely this transitional space where children are trained to access the symbolic and cultural order of Basque society.

Basque cinema in euskara, the Basque language has had new and complex effects in Basque society, which most critics have overlooked mainly because it creates a certain filmic opacity that can be dismissed as uneventful, not formally challenging, parochial or even “costumbrist”.

Basque cinema in euskara, the Basque language has had new and complex effects in Basque society, which most critics have overlooked mainly because it creates a certain filmic opacity that can be dismissed as uneventful, not formally challenging, parochial or even “costumbrist”.

When analyzing, thus, the Basque cinema in euskara that emerges in the 2000s, almost simultaneously with Andalusian cinema, several new historical problems and challenges arise. First of all, the question of the existence of Basque cinema and the negativity of such an existence disappear in favor of positive questions: Is Basque cinema the one who is solely produced in the Basque Country? Do we need to incorporate cinema made by Basques in other languages? It is important to emphasize the fact that the existence of Basque cinema no longer is doubted by these questions, only its corpus is debated. The issue of language is not simply or primordially linguistic: it is geopolitical. Basque cinema in euskara, with very rare and hypothetical exceptions, is a cinema made locally in the Basque Country, which captures the bilingual, if not trilingual (Basque, Spanish, French), reality in a way that posits the Basque-speaking public as its target audience, that is, a local audience—and a second larger and external audience through subtitles.

The issue of language is also historical in a sense that Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism and heteroglossia captures well. Basque language brings historical issues of subalternity and repression that only gain full meaning in Basque language: hence, the influence of Basque literature is more present. More specifically, the importance of oral literature and popular theater becomes central, as they are the media in which most historical conflicts and reality has been represented in Basque culture. Discourses and representational strategies developed by literature (oral, popular, and written) shape the way in which Basque film in euskara approaches this reality. In short, there is more discursive continuity between literature and film, which, first and foremost, brings the issue of the importance of comedy and kitsch.

Finally, given the more limited pool of professionals involved in the production of Basque films, professionals tend to be more hybrid in their professional identity: actors act as directors, more actors come from theater and television, etc. More notably, the presence of women and queer directors is proportionally more elevated. At the same time, other issues, beyond that of violence (localized as either ETA’s terrorism or extended to gender or sex) appear as more central, as this cinema no longer performs its own negation as sole form of historical representation. As stated above, the importance of popular theater and the politics of comedy take center stage, shifting the discourse to class, gender, and sex struggles.

Given the process of subalternization that Basque language and culture underwent at least since the Council of Trent, and later in the 17th and 18th century as an oligarchic elite backed by the church developed the ideology of “foralismo,” the poor and rural Basque classes developed a very rich popular culture of contestation and comedy, even when it was dressed in church cloths (religious representations). Although in the 19th century Carlism and Basque nationalism resorted to this culture in order to found a political imaginary, popular culture persisted through the twentieth century. However, because of its rural foundations and the religious control exerted over it, popular culture organized as comedy, contestation, and excess, ran against the culture of modernization that was presented in Spanish and French. Already during the second Republic, when Nemesio Manuel Sobrevilla filmed his Elai alaia (1933), the historical contradiction between a rural culture of comedy and contestation, on the one hand, and the nationalist modernist appropriation of the former, on the other, became the central axis upon which Basque film was structured. After the Franco dictatorship, as the Autonomous Basque Community developed its own public sphere in euskara, media such as television and film retook this popular tradition and its nationalist appropriation, now coding both in euskara.

When analyzing, thus, the Basque cinema in euskara that emerges in the 2000s, almost simultaneously with Andalusian cinema, several new historical problems and challenges arise […]the question of the existence of Basque cinema […] the issue of language […] limited pool of professionals

When analyzing, thus, the Basque cinema in euskara that emerges in the 2000s, almost simultaneously with Andalusian cinema, several new historical problems and challenges arise […]the question of the existence of Basque cinema […] the issue of language […] limited pool of professionals

From its origins, the oligarchic discourse of “foralismo,” later turned nationalist, resorted to euskara as the cornerstone of the historical originality and uniqueness of the Basque Country. As a result, an Occidentalist discourse on the Basque Country was developed, which resorted to the origins of the West in order to prove its historical originality. As a result of this discourse of Occidentalist origins, the Basques were ideologically framed not only as the original founders of the West but also as its sole “indigenous people.” Consequently, the Basques became Occidentalism’s internal other: the only indigenous and Western people left in the West. In short, the Basques became the internal other of the West. Basque popular culture was simultaneously mobilized both in an Occidentalist way (as the West’s origin and internal other) as well as in an anti-Occidentalist fashion: as a subaltern way to resist the modernizing advances of the local oligarchies. In short, the modern deployment of popular Basque culture refers to a founding split within Occidentalism: Basques are the “indigenous” others of Occidentalism and, yet, they resort to Occidentalism as the ultimate discourse to frame Basque politics. [13] This split, which is mainly class related, becomes the center of rural popular culture in euskara and is retaken and refashioned by contemporary Basque film.

In the following, I will concentrate in four films: Aupa Etxebeste (Hurray Etxebeste! 2005; Asier Altuna and Telmo Esnal); Kutxidazu bidea, Ixabel! (Show me the Way, Ixabel, 2006; Fernando Benues and Mireia Gabilondo; henceforth Show me the Way), Ander (2009, Roberto Castón) and Sukalde kontuak (Kitchen Matters; 2009; Aitzpea Goenaga).

photo 18

Aupa Etxebeste(Hurray Etxebeste! 2005; Asier Altuna and Telmo Esnal) centers on a two-generation family that has risen to the status of neoliberal petit bourgeoisie. Due to an economic fiasco, the family finds itself without cash or credit on the eve of their annual vacation to Marbella

Hurray Etxebeste! borrows from the cinema of entrapment where most of the sequences take place inside an apartment in a Basque town. Reminiscent of the closed environments of Alex de la Iglesia’s Day of the Beast (1995) and The Community (2000), Hurray Etxebeste also sheds light on the influence that popular Basque culture has had in de la Iglesia’s filmmaking. The film centers on a two-generation family that has risen to the status of neoliberal petit bourgeoisie. Due to an economic fiasco, the family finds itself without cash or credit on the eve of their annual vacation to Marbella. The vacation has also a political dimension as the orchestrated return from Marbella is meant to become the starting point for his campaign for the position of mayor. As a result, the family members fake their exit to Marbella and stay at home, unbeknown to the entire town. As they have no food, they resort to catching doves—and even a cat on the roof. Through many hilarious adventures, the family finds joy in their isolation and, as the grandfather states at the end, “these are the best vacations I ever had.” As they fake their return from Marbella, their big Mercedes runs out of gas at the entrance of the town. They are towed away and, as the towing truck enters the town, it joins the parade of the town festivities; the father takes advantage of the situation and starts his campaign for mayor from the top of the towed car.

Perhaps, the final shot more than any other signifies the attempt to suture the split between a popular past still kept alive in the town festivities and the return of a new neoliberal class that needs towing and has learnt its true identity by being forced to return to a quasi-rural life at home. Besides the impossible suture of the split within Occidentalism that the final shot signifies, the film succeeds in rescuing popular comedy and trickery as way of survival. The film, against its own ideology, shows the contemporary value of class strategies that originate in the culture of rural subaltern classes.

In the very last scene, however, the actors, still representing their respective characters, make clear that the pretense they had to survive for a month is acting. Gathered in the old factory of the grandfather that started their class ascendancy, they bow to the spectator. At that point, the film becomes a meta-comedy aware of its own comedic strategy. However, the ruins of the factory, in the background of the mise-en-scene, linger as a haunting presence of the split within Occidentalism, between old rural trickstery and a capitalist modernization that has failed.

Moreover, the ruined factory was specialized in Basque barrettes, which the grandfather still wears. The father substitutes the barrette with a hairpiece but, after finding out that the entire town knows about his boldness, drops the pretense of the hairpiece and shows his boldness. In short, it is the father’s attempt to give up the traditional barrette that provokes his inability to negotiate Oedipally his masculinity and patriarchal position as neoliberal petit bourgeois. The fact that the film blames the mother for the economic fiasco but then gives her a very marginal and benign role becomes the other ideological suture of the film: the film attempts to turn trickstery into a form of emasculation.

Kutsidazu bidea, Ixabel! (Show me the Way, Ixabel, 2006; Fernando Benues and Mireia Gabilondo) t ells the story of a Basque city boy who in order to become “truly” Basque by improving his knowledge of euskara among “true speakers,” leaves the city of San Sebastian and moves to a rural village in the mountains to learn in a barnetegi - a hybrid model of school

Kutsidazu bidea, Ixabel! (Show me the Way, Ixabel, 2006; Fernando Benues and Mireia Gabilondo) t ells the story of a Basque city boy who in order to become “truly” Basque by improving his knowledge of euskara among “true speakers,” leaves the city of San Sebastian and moves to a rural village in the mountains to learn in a barnetegi – a hybrid model of school

Show me the Way is the film that is most aware and ironic of the Basque split within Occidentalism. The film tells the story of a Basque city boy who in order to become “truly” Basque by improving his knowledge of euskara among “true speakers,” leaves the city of San Sebastian and moves to a rural village in the mountains to learn in a barnetegi. A barnetegi is a hybrid model of school where the student takes classes of euskara during the day and lives with a rural euskara-speaking family in the evenings and weekends, while helping with the household chores. The film thus is a mockery of the Conradian trope of going native in the Basque “Heart of Darkness.” The main character, Juan Martin, falls in love with the daughter of the rural family, Ixabel. Through many sequences and adventures where the city boy is mocked as the most “native” and innocent, the film explores the love triangle between Ixabel, Juan Martin, and Luis-Koldo,* a tall handsome villager who outdoes Juan Martín at every rural activity. At the end, Juan Martin manages to outdo his rival by singing a bertso (improvised oral poetry) at the village festivities and, in this way, wins the heart of Ixabel.

It is important to note that Ixabel appears to be “less rural” than Juan Martin. She is pursuing a degree in psychology at the university, is less inhibited than Juan Martin, and more in command of her feelings and body. She chooses him because he represents an alternative to the rural masculinity that is more viril but resorts to prostitution in order to fulfill its desire. Juan Martin’s attempt to declare his love publicly during the town festivities by using the newly learned language to improvise a bertso—and insert himself within rural oral culture—is the final step to refashion his masculinity by overcoming the split within Occidentalism.

However, in one of the last two sequences, the camera pulls back and shows the crew and the other cameras that are filming the sequence. In this way, the film becomes once again a meta-comedy and, by doing so, makes the public aware of the comedic nature of the film—a medium that tricks the audience into believing its representation. In last instance, the film makes the audience part of the contradictions involved in the split of Occidentalism in the Basque Country: the town festivities find their continuation in the film theater.

The other final sequence shows the love triangle on the other side of the state border, in the French Basque Country: they are in a nude beach and jump in the water. This new combination of nature and civilization, Spanish characters and French sexual liberation, all within the boundaries of the Basque Country, further adds to the ultimate powers of comedy to question political boundaries.

Ander (2009, Roberto Castón) tells the story of a Basque farmstead where the elder sibling, Ander, lives with his mother and sister, as the latter is about to get married and move out of the farmstead. Ander has an accident, brakes his leg, and, through his future brother-in-law, hires a Peruvian immigrant, José, to help him with the farmstead chores till he recovers

Ander (2009, Roberto Castón) tells the story of a Basque farmstead where the elder sibling, Ander, lives with his mother and sister, as the latter is about to get married and move out of the farmstead. Ander has an accident, brakes his leg, and, through his future brother-in-law, hires a Peruvian immigrant, José, to help him with the farmstead chores till he recovers

Ander is a film that alternates between comedy and melodrama. Unlike the previous two films where the camera work and the editing create a fast pace attuned to the rhythm of the comedy and reveal the film’s its filmic nature at the end, Ander adopts the auteuristic strategy of the long take where the camera barely moves; even when it pans or zooms, it does so in order to make small adjustments of point of view. Perhaps the use of silence is the most rural aspect of the film, next to two-shots where one of the characters is positioned with his/her back to the camera as to create an inner space of dialogue between characters that escapes the camera and the spectator.

The film tells the story of a Basque farmstead where the elder sibling, Ander, lives with his mother and sister, as the latter is about to get married and move out of the farmstead. Ander has an accident, brakes his leg, and, through his future brother-in-law, hires a Peruvian immigrant, José, to help him with the farmstead chores till he recovers. Through subtle dialogue,  the film makes clear that neither Ander nor José like the urban life. As they get to know each other, Ander falls in love with José. When Ander’s mother dies and he is about to fully recover, he faces the prospect of a solitude that prompts him to ask José to stay with him. Ander discovers his love toward José while his best friend, a sexual addict, invites both to party with him and a prostitute, Reme, after the wedding of Ander’s sister.

Here again a public festivity, the wedding reception held outdoors, becomes the starting point of the process of self-discovery and romance that Ander and José undergo. Here, however, the comedy and its popular dimension, channeled through Ander’s best friend, is condemned. Rather than attempting an ideological suture of the split in Occidentalism, the film hints at the return of a new ruralism across continents—an Atlantic ruralism. The film incorporates the occidentalist split within the rural world by resorting to another postcolonial difference: the immigration shaped by the history of Spanish imperialism and Occidentalism. Another form of ruralism becomes internal to Basque ruralism while the desire that emerges within—a gay masculine desire—brings back the discourse of modernization inside the rural world and attempts a new rural suture to the split of Occidentalism. The fact that José is the subject who stands as the nurturing other that allows the Basque subject to refashion itself at the end does not solve the split—even though the solution given is ultimately original and full of political potentiality. The role of the prostitute woman at the end also becomes ambiguous.

Sukalde kontuak (Kitchen Matters; 2009; Aitzpea Goenaga) -The comedy takes place around Basque cuisine, a new and (post)modern phenomenon of Basque culture, which claims on traditional rural cooking as its foundation

Sukalde kontuak (Kitchen Matters; 2009; Aitzpea Goenaga) -The comedy takes place around Basque cuisine, a new and (post)modern phenomenon of Basque culture, which claims on traditional rural cooking as its foundation

Kitchen Matters is a comedy that takes place in the city of San Sebastian. A cooking chef opens a new school and is teaching six* new students to cook. The sanitation inspector is threatening to close the school and the chef Juan Mari Arzak—who makes a cameo appearance—is about to arrive to evaluate the students and, if they pass, issue a certificate. The kitchen is overwhelmed by a foul smell that, eventually is discovered, comes from the air conditioning ducts; it is the result of the a rich man who lives upstairs and has been dead for several days. The foul smells also lead the students and their chef to the gold treasury that the dead man hides on top of the air ducts. Although no explanation is given, a mafia group is after the treasury as well. Although the mafia gets away with the treasure, the mother of the school chief manages to hide some gold in her body before she dies; as a result, at the end of the film, the entire school is rich.

The comedy takes place around Basque cuisine, a new and (post)modern phenomenon of Basque culture, which claims on traditional rural cooking as its foundation. Yet, food itself is never problematized or turned into comedy material—besides circumstantial gags. Similarly, the history of the dead man upstairs or his involvement with the mafia is not explained. Comedy relies on the casual interaction between the students and the love stories that ensue. This film, thus, relies on a very modern setting and with many referents to traditional rural culture. However, because these references are not incorporated actively into the comedy, the split of Occidentalism present in the film is disavowed at the end. As a result, the comedy becomes light and is void of a rich dialogic or polyphonic structure. Ultimately, the film does not succeed in providing a modern set, in which popular comedy can be redeployed.

The above four films point to the importance of the split within Occidentalism that shapes contemporary Basque cinema and endows it with a history that predates cinema. The different negotiations that the four films present show the potential and limits that define contemporary Basque cinema in euskara. The historical split and the popular dialogism present in Basque cinema moves the discussion of contemporary Basque cinema away from any definition that emphasizes violence and negativity as components of a Spanish nationalist primal scene. As the above simultaneous discussion of Medem’s cinema in Spanish and contemporary Basque cinema in euskara analyzes, Basque cinema is a wider spectrum and must be examined from the vantage point provided by Basque cinema in euskara. This deconstructive approach would explain the historical continuation and transformation of an earlier oral popular culture in Basque cinema and would allow to analyze its importance in the filmic work of directors as different as Alex de la Iglesia, Julio Medem, or Elena Taberna.

If Basque cinema is historically re-defined from within Basque cultural history and its split within Occidentalism, Basque cinema presents a reality that exceeds any nationalist analysis, Spanish or Basque, and opens the way for more heterogeneous and fragmentary analysis that does not find its ultimate ideological foreclosure in the nationalist formation of “Spanish cinema” or “Basque cinema.”

Deconstruction and Devolution of the Spanish Primal Scene

The above analysis departs from the formations of Orientalism and Occidentalism in order to frame the discussion of Andalusian and Basque cinema beyond nationalist formations such as Spanish and Basque cinema, and, moreover, explains such nationalist ideological foreclosures as effects, rather than causes, of the divide between Orientalism and Occidentalism. In this respect, Andalusian and Basque cinemas exceed Spanish cinema and, by doing so, contribute to the devolution of a critique of Spanish nationalism and its primal scene. As a result, other issues such as fantasy, desire, gaze, gender and sexuality are freed from their ultimate nationalist overdetermination and can be discussed and analyzed in new ways that situate them in a global context without bypassing their local historicity.


1- Following this theory, one could advance a new, yet concise definition of the Spanish nationalism: it is a compensatory fantasy deployed by the Spanish state against the traumatic clash that Orientalism and Occidentalism produce in the symbolic order of a postcolonial Atlantic.

2- This fantasy is so powerful and overdetermining that when Almodóvar needs to step outside the boundaries of the españolada, upon which he founds his cinematography in All about my Mother, he resorts to other two areas of Spain that are not marked by the Spanish nationalist primal scene: Catalonia and Galicia. These two regions contribute to the regeneration of the deadly scene of Madridean movida. At the same time, Almodóvar returns to an Atlantic geography: the Argentinean mother who nurtures the new heir to a post-AIDS Spain, now void of the celebratory excess (movida) that made it “different” in the first place. Similarly in Mar adentro, Amenábar invokes Galician and Catalonian characters in order to form a new postnational space of death and regeneration that no longer can be reduced to the discourse of the españolada.

3-  For the effect of other media in the nineteenth-century and fin-de-siècle see the essay collection edited by Susan Larson and Eva Woods’s Visualizing Spanish Modernity. However the collection does not tackle the problem of the Generation of 98. As Utrera states, following Guillermo Díaz Plaja, only Azorín goes beyond the dichotomy cinema/Castilian town by adopting cinematic techniques to describe the landscape and people of Castile in his Castilla (1920; Utrera, Modernismo 242-45).

4– According to the same publication, the following films are shown that year: 7 Vírgenes by Alberto Rodríguez (LZ Producciones), La Leyenda Del Tiempo by Isaki Lacuesta (Jaleo Films) La Vida Perra De Juanita Narboni by Farida Benlyazid (ZAP Producciones) Los Aires Difíciles by Gerardo Herrero (Maestranza Films), La Buena Voz by Antonio Cuadri (Manufacturas Audiovisuales) y Morente Sueña La Alhambra by José Sánchez Montes (Ático 7).

5- Noticiario Centro de Andalucia cites the report published by the AFC for the year 2007: “año en el que se llegó al número de 1.054 rodajes en todo el territorio andaluz. El incremento fue del 22,13% respecto a los proyectos de 2006, y desde su fundación hace ahora diez años, la suma total de rodajes ha llegado a 3.670. La comunidad andaluza, a través de la Red de ciudades de Cine que forman más de 40 municipios, acogió durante 2007 rodajes de 26 nacionalidades distintas.”

6- Its model, besides the canonical Romeo and Juliet, is Stephen Friar’s Sammie and Rosie Get Laid (1987; Heredero, 20 nuevos 181).

7-As Antonio Santamarina states: “sus historias… por lo demás, casi siempre permanecen abiertas en su epílogo y, a veces, deliberadamente ambiguas” (Heredero, La mitad 34).

8- Although Gutiérrez wanted to give more presence to the Roma character, the producers decided not to accept these changes, as Gutiérrez had already given a more central role to the character in the narrative (Heredero and Santamarina 28).

9- Carlos Losilla goes as far as to say that “el anciano digno y respetable se convierta en le protagonista absoluto del film”

10- The fact that Heredero cites three women directors (R. Vergés, G. Querejeta, and Ch. Gutiérrez) as the “complement” of this renewal began by male Basque directors lingers on misogyny as Triana-oribio already has pointed out (147-48).

11- Unlike the Civil War which still requires constant exorcism and unearthing.

12- Other films in Basque: Go!azen 2008; Itsasoaren alaba 2009; Zigortzaileak 2009; 80 egunean 2010; Sagarren denbora, 2010.

13- The discourse of Orientalism has played an important role but only since the 19th century albeit through the contradictory formulation of “an internal Orient:” one defined by nativism and originality yet located within Europe. Therefore, although what I have coined as “split within Occidentalism,” can be rephrased as a split between Orientalism and Occidentalism, here and in order to resort to the entire historical span of the split while being concise, I will prefer the coinage of “split within Occidentalism.” See my “Imagining the Basques.”

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(Urretxu, 1963). Michigan State University-n irakaslea da. Argitaratu dituen liburuen artean, besteak beste "Nazioaren hondarrak: Euskal literatura garaikidearen historia postnazional baterako hastapenak (2006)" eta "Apokalipsia guztioi erakutsia" (2009, Erein), Erein argitaletxeko saria jasotakoa azpimarra daitezke.
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5 Responses »

  1. Brilliant, complex and amazing. I do not agree with the theoretical background, but there are not many authors able to analyze with your profound scope. I do not usually write in English and therefore I do not want to write with a dictionary in hand. It is not cool. So I will commit a lot of faults!
    Before you make the correction of this text in summer I would rather suggest you writing a parallel analysis on the French imperial-colonial relationship. You know, French side is about Maïté:
    And, Spanish side is about Arguiñano:
    Obviously, my intuition shows me there are three main areas of investigation. One is the Spanish influence, through its imperial State, which your work is about. The French influence is the other. And the main is the American one, the cinema production of the global Empire.
    It is really hard to stablish such a point of view if one is not an anticolonialist, antifeminist and anticonsumerist. Above all because that implise a meritocratic essay. I envy you. You have got a really good English. Fluent, precise and easy reading.
    When I have more time I will read all the article and I am going to try to make a critical text on your work. Your production is something rare. I think it is something which is quite utopic for me. I am fighting in my everyday life so that I can have a Vasconish and an English environment. But, I am living in hell.
    I will read it, I promise. I will suck it.

  2. Joseba, here you have got a translation produced by me about an architectural text of the Vasconic architect Miguel Garai:
    Garai, Miguel – Arkitektura ehunkoia:

  3. Joseba, one more thing, do you consider this production as a non-fictional cinema?
    And, this:
    It is about the Proclamation of the First Politeia of the Vasconic City of Navarre. A meritocratic, dialectical and holocratic Becoming; we reject the concept of State…

  4. Kaixo Andoni:

    Ez diat hire iruzkinen berri izan orain arte, antza zenbait “setting” aldatu beharko dizkiat eta orain lanpetuta negok. Pozten nauk aritikulua gustatzeak. Alderdi frantsesari buruz heuk idatzi beharko duk, beraz ;-). Neu orain beste gauza batzuetan nebilek (XVI. mendea).
    Udan izango diat asti gehiago eta orduan bergiratuko dizkiat heuk arkitekturari eta zuzeu-ri buruz jarritakoak. Agur bero bat eta nahi duan arte! Zertan habil EHan? Unibertsitatean, kanpoan, ikasten, irakasten?

  5. […] “On the Spanish Primal Scene: The Double Gaze of Orientalism and Occidentalism in Andalucian and Basque Cinema.” Companion to Spanish Cinema. Eds. Tatjana Pavlovic and Jo Labanyi. New York: Blackwell. (85-98). (a longer version was published as: “The National Primal Scene: On Spain’s Cinematic Invisibility and the Global Emergence of Basque and Andalusian Cinemas.” Lapiko kritikoa. 4-5-2014. […]

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