"Land and Freedom was directed by Ken Loach (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”). As usual, he is interested in political and social commentary. In this case, he takes on the Spanish Civil War. His protagonist is a communist who travels to Spain to help create a better society. The movie was critically acclaimed and was awarded the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. The story is similar to George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Orwell participated in the civil war as part of POUM.
The movie is told in flashback as the granddaughter of David Carr (Ian Hart) looks through his mementos after he dies. She discovers that he participated in the Spanish Civil War. Carr was a British communist who decided to travel to Spain to join the rebels against Franco’s fascists. He joins a unit of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM). The squad is a mixture of genders and nationalities. He quickly bonds with his mates as they all share a hard-core belief in Trotsky’s version of communism. The situation is complicated because POUM is at odds with the Soviet-supported communists who are opposed to the radical social revolution that POUM wants. In the best scene, after the realistically gritty capture of a village, the villagers debate whether to collectivize the land. The villagers are played by actual villagers from the location. Later, the squad debates whether to join the popular army with its resources, or remain pure. Carr bonds with his mates as they deal with the frustrations of a losing cause. He falls in love with one of the women. The movie does a great job depicting the confusion of a civil war. There is a scene where Carr is on a rooftop across from the other communist faction and he wonders why they are fighting each other. This happens after Carr had switched sides.
“Land and Freedom” is an interesting movie, but it requires some effort on the part of the viewer. It is a movie for intellectuals. Subtitles are rare and you have to figure out the villager collectivization debate on your own. Thankfully, Carr speaks English so you do get to rest a bit. Carr is an intriguing and inspirational figure. He represents the naivete of many revolutionaries. The framing device is effective because we see his experiences and learn along with his granddaughter about the situation he put himself in. His naivete and humaneness sets him apart from most cinematic rebels who are hardened and Machiavellian. The other characters are appealing. They all share Carr’s sincere belief in the cause. Carr develops a relationship with one of the women, but the arc is not predictable. The unit is not dysfunctional. However, they do debate a lot. It is definitely a dialogue-driven movie. Unfortunately, without the subtitles, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out what they are saying. The movie can be a bit confusing. It could have been worse because at least it does not try to give us the big picture. Just go with the flow and stick around for some nifty action scenes. Civil wars can be messy and this is clear from the movie. For instance, a priest is executed.
“Land and Freedom” is not based on a true story, but it does get the factionalism of the war accurate. Aragon was a region that was divided between the fascists and republicans. The fighting was basically guerrilla warfare. The republicans were divided into factions with POUM being one of them. In 1937, the government-backed Stalinists did take on POUM in Barcelona. POUM was driven underground after this.
“Land and Freedom” is one of the better Spanish Civil War movies. You should see at least one, but you might want to start with one that is not selectively subtitled. Try “For Whom the Bell Tolls” to get your feet wet.