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Nº1 – December 2018

The Wind from the East

Enrique Fibla Gutiérrez (Filmoteca de Catalunya)- 09:40



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In 1932, Valencian critic Juan Piqueras released the journal Nuestro Cinema in an attempt to revolutionize film culture in Spain. In 1933 Rafael Alberti,  a close friend of Piqueras who had  contributed to his journal Octubre, released a poem titled “A ghost runs through Europe”, in which he described a “wind from the East” advancing fast throughout the world “from the red steppes of hunger”. This wind brought Soviet cinema to Spain and had a lasting effect on the film production of the time.[1]

The film La ruta de Don Quijote (Ramon Biadiu, 1934) is a perfect case in point of how the traditionally downtrodden segments of Spanish society were incorporated into the new society desired by Republican Spain, mirroring similar images found in Soviet films.[2] Directed by Ramon Biadiu for CIFESA, it provided a documentary illustration to some passages of Cervantes’s famous novel set in the Castilian countryside. Although initially conceived for the commercial market, the film enjoyed a noncommercial afterlife in the propaganda efforts of the Republican government in the 1937 Paris International Exposition alongside the work of fellow filmmakers Carlos Velo and Fernando G. Mantilla, who recognized the influence of films like Staroye i novoye (Old and New, Sergei Eisenstein, 1929) in their work and had created a film club in Madrid (Cineclub FUE, Frente Universitario Español) to screen Soviet films.

Although La Ruta de Don Quijote does not include an explicitly political commentary, we can trace the scenes of peasants harvesting wheat to the imagery displayed in Soviet films such as Earth (Zemlya, Alexander Dovzhenko, 1930) or Old and New, admired by Spanish film critics, filmmakers and enthusiasts.[3] Two large stills from Earth were included in Nuestro Cinema’s third issue as part of an article on the filmography of Sergei Eisenstein (Fig. 1). This imagery of rural labor was shared across the political spectrum with different objectives in mind and can even be recognized in the amateur films produced by the Catalan bourgeoisie (Fig. 2). The hard work of wheat harvesters and peasants was represented in documentaries during the Second Republic as a way to blend the rural and urban realities of the country, becoming a constitutive element of Republican modernity.[4]

This video essay recreates an imagined film made from fragments of Earth and Old and New and their echoes in films made during the Spanish Republic such as La Ruta de Don Quijote, Galicia, and Las Hurdes. It is divided in three parts; 1) Harvesting the Wind from the East, 2) The Masters of the Harvest, 3) The Seeds of Defeat.

Figure 3. Stills from Old and New in Nuestro Cinema Issue 3, pp. 78-79

Figure 4. Stills from Earth (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1930), untitled film (Delmir de Caralt, circa 1935), El Blat (Salvador Rifà, 1933), Staroye i novoye (1929), Galicia (Carlos Velo, 1936), and Las Hurdes (Luis Buñuel, 1932).

[1] See Román Gubern and Paul Hammond, Los años rojos de Luis Buñuel (Madrid: Cátedra, 2009); Enrique Fibla Gutierrez, “Revolutionizing the ‘National Means of Expression’: The Influence of Soviet Film Culture in Pre-Civil War Spain,” Catalan Journal of Communication & Cultural Studies 8, no. 1 (April 1, 2016): 95–111, https://doi.org/10.1386/cjcs.8.1.95_1.

[2] Santos Zunzunegui has analyzed the film from an interesting semiotic perspective that highlights its “radical materialism” in relation to the novel from Cervantes and the populist and progressive spirit of Republican culture of the 1930s. But he completely overlooks the relationship of the film with Soviet and leftist cinema of the era, establishing instead a link with the cinema of Jean-Marie Straub y Danièle Huillet. Santos Zunzunegui, Historias de España: de qué hablamos cuando hablamos de cine español (Santander, Cantabria: Shangrila, 2018), 36–45.

[3] José María Caparrós Lera poses a similar argument in relation to La Aldea Maldita (Florían Rey, 1929), analyzing the film through the “peasant” cinema of Dovzhenko. José María Caparrós Lera, Arte y Política En El Cine de La República (1931-1939) (Barcelona: Edit. 7 1/2: Edic. Universidad, 1981), 78.

[4] See Jordana Mendelson, Documenting Spain: Artists, Exhibition Culture, and the Modern Nation, 1929-1939 (University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005), xxxv.