The survival of images

A few days ago we read the news that they are going to publish some unknown notebooks by the renowned film director Luis García Berlanga – renovator of the Spanish film after the war, and director of such classical tragicomedies as Welcome, Mr. Marshall! (1952), the already quoted Plácido (1961), or The hangman (1963), whose story is set in Mallorca – with his personal notes and aphorisms on cinema and literature, photos, poems of youth and drawings. The notebooks are seventy year old – Berlanga was then twenty –, and belong to an equally distant episode of Spanish historical consciousness, the Spanish participation in the Soviet front of the Second World War through the División Azul. Berlanga also went to the front with the División on 14 July 1941, chiefly for one reason: to commute the death sentence of his father, a member of the Unión Republicana, a center-left bourgeois party. Some of these texts, we are told in the reviews published so far, show a Falangist, but at the same time Anti-Francoist young Berlanga.

A waggon of the División Azul leaving to the eastern front in July 1941. Luis García Berlanga is the second from left below

German soldier’s train leaving to Paris during the First World War, as we have seen in the post Excursion

The amount of forgotten or hitherto inaccessible archive photo material of the past decades is quickly increasing over the internet, and Russia is one of the most active areas in this recuperation of history. It was there that we found, in a series of hitherto unknown photos on the División Azul in the Soviet front, the following surprising photo on which the Spanish soldiers entertain themselves with «saloon bullfight» improvised in the open air somewhere on the front of Stalingrad.

It is very tempting to think tat Berlanga was also there, and that this scene was the core image of his film La vaquilla (The heifer) of 1985. Although it seems a very late date for this, The heifer was the first film allowing itself a grotesque look on the Civil War, thus causing quite mixed reactions. The story shows in the key of the farce the Republicans’ attempts to steal a heifer which is being kept for a bullfight in the town controlled by the Nationalists. The hungry Republican army, entrenched on the outskirts of the town, makes everything to take the heifer for better or worse. Obviously not with the intention of a bullfight, but to eat it.

We keep so many images in our memory which live and are shaped further in the darkness, and then, many years later, suddenly come to the sunlight: poiesis. Aby Warburg wrote about this Nachleben of the images. Perhaps that absurd scene of the División Azul was one of this kind for Berlanga. For one does not become a photographer or a filmmaker to record the world, but rather to give form to the images living in him.

Pages of one of the recently found notebooks by Berlanga, to be published soon