As the COVID-19 crisis still roils around the world, Movistar Plus’ new banner series, Enrique Urbizu’s “Libertad,” opened day and date on March 26 in both Spanish theaters as 135-minute movie and on Movistar Plus’ pay/SVOD platform as a five-part series.

Handled by A Contracorriente Films, the film’s broad release is less of  marketing ploy, more of a drive to boost Spain’s theatrical business over Holy Week and a response to a potential film version detected as Urbizu and fellow creatives were editing.

“Libertad” continues Movistar Plus’ large bet on its talent. The title  could apply to both its characters as its creators. Renowned for the impact on his movies of classic cinema, Urbizu has finally been given the tools to make a title which enrolls Western tropes in a violent adventure set in the Spanish wilds that bears witness to the twilight years of Spain’s bandolero bandits and the dawn of a modern age.

Set in 1807, the film follows Lucía the Plainswoman who, after 17 years in prison, walks free, alongside her son, with just one thought – of escaping the violence that has marked her past. But the bandolero gangs have other plans.

Sold by Beta Film, “Libertad” channels Urbizu’s rich classic movie heritage, characters that look like they’ve stepped out of a Goya painting, his full control of his craft and ardent interest in the criminal underworld. Variety talked with him just before the film and series premiered in Spain.

What narrative liberties did you find in the miniseries format?

Narrative freedoms begin in very early development, in agreements with the network and producers. If certain choices aren’t made from the start you cannot take liberties in screenplay construction or later on with audiovisual narrative. The word here has been agreement. The format

allows you to deepen the characters, expand subplots without a movie’s urgency nor the necessity of endlessly prolonging a story as happens with many series which dream of perpetuity. It’s very nice to know your ending. It allows you to work with joy and confidence. It’s like writing a novel or a story of 700 words.

The local governor bandies the word “progress.” There’s a sense that we’re at the dawn of a modern age. What interested you about this period and what did you discover making the film? 

I’ve always been interested in the crime world. The romantic bandolero iconography – the horse, the wilds – have been part and parcel of Spain for many years. They link to such themes as the illiteracy and injustice of rural Spain. The 19th century was immensely interesting. In 2021, the issues the characters talk about are still very much alive. The series allows us to peek into the past and contemplate where we come from and what happened to explain our state today. It looks like we haven’t learned much. As the Plainswoman puts is: “There will never be that [progress] here.”

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Libertad Credit: Movistar +

The film finishes with a shot that re-imagines John Ford’s ending in “The Searchers.” There are also echoes of Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. Could you comment?

That last shot doesn’t hide itself. It’s there in direct dialogue with the last shot of “The Searchers.” Ford been a very special director for me and there’s a clear connection, although my ending’s more open – whether the character really gets home. Ford’s circular structure – both first and last shots are very similar – is not our case at all. For me it’s there to establish doubt. The film starts with the bars on a prison wall and ends asking whether the Plainswoman has really made it home. But I always work from the material, for the material and with the material. The story, the characters, the stage, they dictate. A cabin, a well and the horizon line give few ways to shoot them or where to put your camera. So you have to work instinctively, honestly and with what’s in front of you. My “hard drive” is packed with cinematography, but apart from the obvious last shot which can only be the last shot, I don’t work by consciously quoting other films. There’s  a sense of influence of course: Raoul Walsh, Anthony Mann, Henry Hathaway, Mackendrick’s “A High Wind in Jamaica” and Lang’s “Moonfleet.” But they never translates directly into my frames. I try to work from another place.

John, the English writer and illustrator who narrates the story of Lucia, calls Spain “cruel and beautiful,” which seems a very apt description of your film, its landscapes and its violence. What were your choices when portraying that Spanish landscape? How did that translate to choice of lenses?

We began pre-production locating in Andalusia. But early on, we realized that we were in very identifiable territory, especially when working with this genre. So we took the decision of shooting in mountain ranges, on plateaus, everywhere and nowhere. That immediately changed the aesthetic of the landscape, of costume design, props and set building. This is where we really started finding the heart of the series. Unax Mendia (“No Rest For The Wicked”) was determined to use the latest model of anamorphic lenses. We were the first to use them. So “Libertad” used the highest-quality cameras and lenses on the market at that time. We took especial care with textures, color palette, balance, landscape uniformity ,and at the same time the possibility of distinguishing one location from another, which comes from road movies and the sort of itinerary that the Western has. Our biggest influences were pictorial, a lot from painting, less from cinema.

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Libertad © Emilio Pereda / Movistar+