Although the first sound film produced in Spain was Francisco Elías's El misterio de la Puerta del Sol (The Mystery in the Puerta del Sol, 1929), the quality of early sound technology was poor. Some Spanish filmmakers worked abroad, principally in France, on their first sound films. Florián Rey's Melodía del arrabal ( Suburban Melody , 1933) was shot at Paramount's Joinville Studio outside Paris, where his friend Perojo had already shot Primavera en otoño ( Spring in Autumn , 1933). The sad reality for the Spanish film industry was that by the end of 1931 Hollywood's foreign-language film productions already held the monopoly on the sound-film market in Spain, even attracting Spanish technicians and artists.
Luis Buñuel (1900–1983), the preeminent figure of Spanish cinema, forged his early career in France. Unlike the mainstream fare that Perojo and Rey worked on, however, Buñuel's first two surrealist films, Un chien andalou ( An Andalusian Dog , 1929) and L'Â ge d'or ( The Golden Age , 1930), were attacks on conventional cinematic narratives. Buñuel shot his first film in Spain, the documentary Las Hurdes ( Land Without Bread , 1933), also known as Tierra sin pan , about the deplorable social conditions in the province of Salamanca. The film was banned first by the Republican government and later by the Francoist regime.
The first Spanish sound studio in Spain was built in Barcelona. The following year two other sound-production studios were established in Madrid. Between 1932 and 1936, the eve of the civil war, the local film industry produced fifty-seven films, with twenty-eight films completed in 1936 alone. The two studios that were seen as the Spanish equivalent of the Hollywood "majors" were Filmófono, established by Ricardo Urgoiti, the scion of a liberal publishing family, and Compañía Industrial Española SA (CIFESA), founded by Vicente Casanova. Urgoiti contracted the young Buñuel as his executive producer. Though Filmófono's output was modest, the combination of Buñuel's presence and its few serious productions of popular cinematic fare made it, along with CIFESA, the most serious efforts to sustain a studio-based Spanish film industry with socially relevant and commercially popular films.
Continuing silent-film practices, the dominant style of these films involved the promotion of local culture through folkloric narratives ( españoladas ) that reveled in character actors imitating colorful regional speech patterns. The major commercial successes of the pre-civil war period included films by Florián Rey ( La Hermana San Sulpicio [ Sister San Sulpicio , 1934], Nobleza baturra [ Rustic Chivalry , 1935], and Morena clara [ Dark and Bright , 1936]) and Benito Perojo ( Rumbo al Cairo [ Bound for Cairo , 1935], Es mi hombre [He's My Man, 1934], and La verbena de la paloma [ Fair of the Dove , 1934]). Such films helped support the impression of the vitality of the pre-civil war sound-film industry. Without any government subsidies, and rivaled only by radio in the mass media, motion pictures became part of the fabric of popular Spanish culture.
In no small measure, the allure of some sound films derived from the emergence of popular Spanish film actresses who constituted in their own right a local variation of Hollywood's star system. Notable among these were Imperio Argentina (1906–2003), the singer who had appeared in Florián Rey's biggest hits; the comic actor Miguel Ligero (1890–1968); and the romantic lead Rosita Díaz Giménez (1908–1986) and her male counterpart, Manuel Luna (1898–1958).
This robust film culture was abruptly curtailed when the Spanish army, under the command of exiled General Francisco Franco, rose up against the Spanish Republican government on 18 July 1936. The ensuing civil war continued for nearly three years, ending with the Francoist victory. The short-term impact of the civil war was obvious. Aerial bombings of Madrid and the diversion of materials to the war effort brought the collapse of commercial film production. Some films already in production, such as Fernando Delgado's El genio alegre (The Happy Spirit, 1939) were not completed until the war's end. Franco sympathizers Benito Perojo and Florián Rey continued working at the Ufa (Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft) studios in Berlin, and, for Perojo, later in Cinecitta in Rome. This was how lavish folkloric films, such as Rey's Carmen, la de
The best-known Spanish filmmaker before Pedro Almodóvar, Luis Buñuel had a film career that spanned fifty years and involved work in three national cinemas, those of Spain, France, and Mexico. Ironically, of the thirty-one films he made, only four of them were shot in his native Spain. Along with persistent attacks on Christian dogma and church hypocrisy, Buñuel's most characteristic theme is a contemptuous view of bourgeois morality and middle-class values. His Mexican period, beginning in 1946, includes some of his most internationally acclaimed films: Los Olvidados ( The Young and the Damned , 1950), El ( This Strange Passion , 1952), and Nazarín (1959). Though varying in style and subject matter, these works parody bourgeois morality and contain powerful and violent imagery.
His years at the famed Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid in the early 1920s brought Buñuel into contact with the poet Federico García Lorca (1898–1936) and the painter Salvador Dalí (1904–1989), with whom he collaborated on his first two films, forging his identity as a surrealist. In Un chien andalou ( An Andalusian Dog , 1929) and L'Â ge d'or ( The Golden Age , 1930), his two surrealist masterpieces made in collaboration with Dalí, he developed a series of violent images that were designed to shock his audience and played with editing techniques to disrupt visual continuity. Even while working on the documentary Tierra sin pan ( Land Without Bread , 1933), his first film shot in Spain, he intensified the shocking images of people from backward rural communities by juxtaposing grotesque images with the tranquil strains of a Brahms symphony. The notoriety of these early films led some critics to read surrealist touches in his later works, especially his popular Mexican commercial films, most of which were largely divorced from surrealism.
His support of the defeated Spanish Republican government during the civil war (1936–1939) forced Buñuel into political exile. After twenty-five years spent forging a commercial career in Mexico, he returned to Spain in 1960 to film Viridiana (1961). The film, approved by strict Spanish censors, appeared to be a parable about Christian charity recounting the efforts of a young woman to be a good Christian. Viridiana won a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival but was immediately denounced by the Vatican as blasphemous. The Spanish government, which rightly saw that it had been ridiculed by the clever filmmaker, responded by banning the film in Spain, and even mention of Buñuel's name was prohibited in the Spanish press.
After Simón del desierto ( Simon of the Desert , 1965), and with the exception of two films shot in Spain— Tristana (1970) and Cet Obscur objet du désir ( That Obscure Object of Desire , 1977)—all of Buñuel's later films would be shot in France. In his mature final period, Belle de jour (1967), starring Catherine Deneuve, won international acclaim, and Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie ( The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie , 1972) won an Oscar ® for best foreign film.
Un chien andalou ( An Andalusian Dog , 1929), L'Â ge d'or ( The Golden Age , 1930), Tierra sin pan ( Land Without Bread , 1933), Los Olvidados ( The Young and the Damned , 1950), El ( This Strange Passion , 1952), Viridiana (1961), Belle de jour (1967), Tristana (1970), Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie ( The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie , 1972)
Aranda, José Francisco. Luis Buñuel: A Critical Biography . New York: Da Capo, 1985.
Baxter, John. Buñuel . London: Fourth Estate, 1994.
Evans, Peter. The Films of Luis Buñuel: Subjectivity and Desire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
——, ed. Luis Buñuel: New Readings . London: British Film Institute, 2004.
Mellen, Joan, ed. The World of Luis Buñuel: Essays in Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Triana (Carmen, the Girl from Triana, 1938) and Perojo's Suspiros de España ( Sighs of Spain , 1939), were shot even as the war raged.