SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: April – ‘The War That Won’t Die: The Spanish Civil War in Cinema’ by David Archibald

The War That Won't Die

The War That Won’t Die charts the changing nature of cinematic depictions of the Spanish Civil War. In 1936, a significant number of artists, filmmakers and writers – from George Orwell and Pablo Picasso to Joris Ivens and Joan Miró – rallied to support the country’s democratically-elected Republican government. The arts have played an important role in shaping popular understandings of the Spanish Civil War and this book examines the specific role cinema has played in this process. The book’s focus is on fictional feature films produced within Spain and beyond its borders between the 1940s and the early years of the twenty-first century – including Hollywood blockbusters, East European films, the work of the avant garde in Paris and films produced under Franco’s censorial dictatorship.

The book will appeal to scholars and students of Film, Media and Hispanic Studies, but also to historians and, indeed, anyone interested in why the Spanish Civil War remains such a contested political topic.

cover art and blurb via amazon

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One could possibly be forgiven for thinking that art and cinema in the 20th century was held back due to the civil war and the Franco regime. That is not close to the truth,  and one medium well capable of expressing Spanish culture was cinema. The War That Won’t Die examines how cinema has been used to shape views over the past 80 years. Fiction films can be seen as imagination, but can also hold many truths, and also lies and propaganda, depending on the eye of the lens-holder.

The book starts out with how cinema was used to portray the civil war through foreign eyes, with films from the United States like ‘For Whom It Bell Tolls’, a love story in war-time, and the East German ‘Five Cartridges’ a battle tale between comrades. While foreign films depict drama and action, the Spanish films were held under the thumb of censors, showing a differing view on how the country and the world needed to see the war. Franco won the war, so he also needed to win history. Films shown to the people of Spain and the outside world needed to depict that the ‘right’ side won the war, while foreign nations continued to produce more romantic accounts of war, as is so often the case.

The latter part of The War That Wont Die focuses on post-Franco films, which were able to give broader accounts, or could dwell on more personal accounts, such as La vieja memoria, a movie which set out to find the ‘truth’ behind the war. Countless hundreds of films have been made in Spain since Franco’s demise, and half attest to the civil war period, all trying to tell the ‘real’ story of the war. The author has pulled together so many films and explained each of their roles in how cinema tries to explain the Spanish Civil War period and how it ‘should’ be portrayed. The War That Wont Die is a well-titled book, with a swathe of cinema to select from, opinions on what happened to Spain can live forever. This book can help a viewer to try to pick truth from fiction – if that is possible with such a subject.

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