Land Without Bread (Luis Bunuel, 1933, Spain)

Land Without Bread, also known as Las Hurdes, is an early documentary work from acclaimed surrealist director Luis Bunuel. It is his third film, following the explosive surrealist short Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L'Age D'or (1930). The film examines las Hurdes, a remote region of Spain that lived primarily in poverty and isolation from the outside world. The title refers to the fact that the residents of this community could not even make bread. The film was highly controversial upon its release and was banned from 1933 to 1936, the reason being that it defamed the good name of the Spanish people. This was of course part of the reason the movie was shot in the first place - to demonstrate that these exotic documentaries showcasing foreign lands could equally be shot in Spain.

The film overall is quite strange and hard to decipher. Is it meant to be a satire? Is it a critique of Spain? The film seems to be all these things in one. There are many inherent contradictions in the film. The film showcases a religious ceremony where the men in the village attempt to tear off a chicken's head. The narration makes it sound like this is savage behavior. Yet within the film, Bunuel arranged the deaths of several goats to capture them falling off a cliff. Likewise, the sympathetic portrayal of the people is not so sympathetic when Bunuel labels the various disabled residents as "cretinous". Overall, it is easy to see that Bunuel was not very suited to the documentary form. The film is perhaps not a very good record of history, but as an example of propaganda or a political film, the film can be viewed as valuable. Overall, it is one of the lesser Bunuel films, and it is easy to see why he did not continue with documentaries.



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