Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at
Sat Nov 18 11:57:18 MST 2000

THE GARDEN OF DELIGHTS (Spanish, 1970, 95 minutes, color, 16mm) Directed
by Carlos Saura

Carlos Saura began directing during the long night of Spanish Fascism.
Only the Spanish master of surrealism, Luis Buñuel, then working in
Mexico, was able to voice the political longings of the Spanish Left
against a world dominated by Francisco Franco. For younger directors
like Saura, Basilio Martin Patino and Mario Camus, the only options were
indirection and allegory. Quietly, Saura and a new generation of
filmmakers chipped away at the Franco massif. In films like LAMENT FOR A
BANDIT (1963) and THE HUNT (1966), Saura portrayed the violence and
gangsterdom of the Franco regime slyly, his criticism of male social
groupings read by many knowing viewers as a searing analysis of Spain’s
dictatorship. In his films, Saura’s editing and narrative strategies
would often run the past headlong into the present, so that his
characters, and his audiences, were frequently unable to tell the
difference between the two. For Saura, the agonies of the Spanish Civil
War had not ended with the vanquishing of the Loyalist forces in the
late 1930s. Franco’s rise to power had only been the gathering of the
storm, Saura’s films seemed to say, the source of the cold black rain
that fell unrelentingly on Spain’s heart in the 1950s, the 1960s, and
the 1970s. As he gingerly walked the line between allegory and outright
social criticism, Saura occasionally raised the suspicions of the
nation’s notoriously dull-witted censors and thick-skulled junta men.
But his student and intellectual audiences were loyal. So, too, Saura
built up a loyal cadre of co-workers, giving his films a visible
continuity to complement his increasingly courageous anti-Franco
narratives. Of his anti-Franco allegories, Saura said they arose out of
" personal compulsion . . . I was overcome by the pressures within
Spain, when I felt I was going to burst." His films, perhaps conceived
as self-therapy, became a nation’s articulation of a spirit of revolt
against tyranny.

With THE GARDEN OF DELIGHTS, Saura’s anti-Fascism was gloriously outed.
Now, his symbolism became more brazen, his settings less allegorical,
his antagonistic characters more recognizable as Fascist surrogates. The
film features an oddball collection of greedy relatives sniffing after a
dying millionaire’s secret fortune. The man has been paralyzed in a car
accident, and has the lost his memory. The money-mad relatives want him
to be able to remember where he’s stashed his money, and in an effort to
jog his memory, begin acting out scenes from his past. But the man’s
past is the past of Spain itself, and the scenes they choose for their
tableaux have the scent of the Civil War about them, as once again, the
past masters the present in Saura’s agile, cynical mind. THE GARDEN OF
DELIGHTS gleefully assassinates the institution of the family, one of
the Franco regime’s most sacred social constructions. The film also
struck some as suspiciously like a preview of the power struggle that
was sure to follow the aging Franco’s death. The film’s conclusion is
bitter and apt, yet it replaces an even more angry ending, in which the
vile relatives are torn to pieces by a pack of wild dogs bearing some
resemblance to themselves.

This time, Saura had gone too far. Even the sluggardly Spanish censors
figured it out, and banned the film for seven months. Non-Spanish
critics, freer to speak, hailed the film, and a print was smuggled out
to the New York Film festival, where it won additional international
plaudits. Under pressure, the Francoists relented, and released the film
with a few strategic cuts. Gone, for instance, was a stirring shot of
the old Republican flag, and a Buñeulesque shot of the nurse
breastfeeding the doddering millionaire.

Within a few years, THE GARDEN OF DELIGHTS would become a prophecy
realized. Franco would be dead, and his political heirs would slaughter
his legacy, such as it was, in a self-immolating struggle for power.
Spain would finally have its democracy, and the martyrs could at last
smile in the tombs.

Saura’s spectacular 1983 CARMEN would be his most commercially
successful film, and the single work by which he is still most
well-known around the world. To Spaniards, though, Carlos Saura has an
honored place among the now-graying
veterans of the anti-Franco struggle. In his 1960s and 1970s works,
Saura seemed to understand Jean-Luc Godard’s dictum that "cinema is
truth at 24 frames a second." Saura’s truth was sardonic, and mocking,
an over-the-shoulder sneer at
officialdom that shows the power of satire to change the world.

                                                               — Kevin
Hagopian, Penn State University


Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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