Spain’s Filmoteca Española Showcases ‘Embrujo,’ Continues Recuperating Spain’s Overlooked Past

Chosen by Pedro Almodóvar for his Homage to Spanish Cinema, ‘Embrujo’ is just one example of the Filmoteca’s valiant recuperation/restoration drive

LYON – Exhibiting two restorations at Lyon’s Lumiere Festival – Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s surrelist masterpiece “Un chien andaluz” and Carlos Serrano de Osma’s “Embrujo,” the earliest film in Pedro Almodovar’s Spanish Cinema Carte Blanche – Spain’s Filmoteca Española is pushing forward with a brace of restorations. These underscore the zeal of an institution in a country whose film institutions suffer severe budgetary restrictions to recuperate not only basic titles from its national film history but a film record of the past.

The Thursday Lumière double-bill marks a recognition from Pedro Almodovar and the Lumière Festival of the importance of this venture. Among re-productions/restorations: Julián Torremocha’s 1939 “Amores de juventud,” described by Spain’s Filmoteca as a “pleasant situation comedy,” in which two girls mistake the same man for a famous doctor. Shot during the Spanish Civil War and completed after the end of the ghastly conflict, it suggests that most Spanish films released immediately after the War were very similar to those made before. Francisco Franco’s triumphant Nationalist regime had, for the moment, other ways of dissuading the beaten Republic from dissent, other than film censorship, such as mass execution.

The Filmoteca Española is also recuperating 1944’s “La llamada del mar,” helmed by José Millán, a love triangle implicitly lamenting the fisherman’s lot, turning on a sailor who returns to dry land to discover his girl-friend has a land-lubber suitor.

Beyond 1948’s “Las aventuras y desventuras de Eduardini,” helmed by Fernando Robles Polo and Fernando Royo, featuring circus clown Eduardini, the Filmoteca is also preserving “Notas Palatinas,” produced by Estudio Films, the equivalent of an early-last-century celeb newsreel. Novelist Benito Pérez Galdos, much admired by Buñuel, and politico Count Ramanones count among its stars.
It is easy to understand Pedro Almodóvar’s interest in 1947’s “Embrujo.”

“When asked what he wanted to say in ‘Embrujo,’ Carlos Serrano de Osma replied that it was an attempt to penetrate the shadows of the unconscious via the brilliant routes of folklore.’ That slightly ostentatious definition captures pretty well ‘Embrujo,’” said Asier Aranzubia, author of “Carlos Serrano de Osma: Historia de una passion,” a definitive portrait.

Turning on the star-crossed love of two flamenco dancers, “Embrujo” was directed by Serrano de Osma, the leading light in a late ‘40s Barcelona-based group of filmmakers, the Telúricos. Their assimilation of foreign formal advances – the brilliant use of the sequence shot in the banquet scene of Serrano de Osma’s debut, 1946’s “Abel Sánchez,” for instance – led to one masterpiece – Lorenzo Llobet Gràcia’s 1948 “Life in Shadows,” heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” – also marked a huge break with the past, and signaled an act of implicit rebellion towards the inevitably conservative film establishment of the day.

The great Spanish actor-writer-director Fernando Fernán Gomez – the star of Victor Erice’s 1973 “The Spirit of the Beehive” and director of 1963’s “The Strange Journey,” both Almodovar choices, a dissident involved in some many of the interesting movies made under and after Franco, despite his protestations that he made films for subsistence – called Serrano’s Telúricos a movement of “formal commitment.”

“Embrujo,” more specifically, mixes French-inspired surrealism and Andalusian song and dance – dancer Lola Flores and Manolo Caracol, who went on to become flamenco royalty in Spain – in a startling mélange which Almodóvar was to repeat, far more successfully, yoking Warhol-style pop, the Spanish movida and, in a later phase, ‘50s Hollywood melodrama and a knowing recreation of the ways, talk and sentiments of Spanish village life.

Featuring among the largest achievements of the Filmoteca Español is the complete recuperation, digitization and documentation, in partnership with pubcaster RTVE, of 43 years of Spain’s weekly NO-DO newsreel, created by Francoist’s regime to screen before movies in cinema theaters; plus TV program/DVD “La guerra filmada,” an archive record of the Spanish Civil War, as seen from both sides – the Republic had a vastly more vibrant quality output than Franco’s Nationalists – which won Best DVD at 2010’s Il Cinema Ritrovato.

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