(05/01/07) – (Dir: Luis Buñuel , Spain, 1933. 30′)

Luis Bunuel’s follow-up to L’Age D’or is set in a medievally poor part of Spain called Las Hurdes, also the original title of this documentary whose English version is Land Without Bread. The people in that region at the time lived in such abject conditions that even bread was unknown to them, hence the English title.

Buñuel was struck by the region’s inhospitable, stark geography and the locals’ capacity to survive on virtually nothing. Born in privilege himself, he must have seen in this scenario of desolation and determination an opposition to the bourgeois values towards which he always maintained a dual, paradoxal relationship. Also, in his autobiography My Last Breath he gives indications that he was genuinely moved and impressed by the place and its people.

There are colorful stories behind the production of Las Hurdes – apparently money was raised with funds from a lottery win – but in any case, the budget was used up by the first day of production. The film must have been a shock to film goers then unused to seeing such harshness on screen; fearless, raw visuality is one of the lasting factors behind Buñuel’s only documentary. It didn’t please a man called Marañon, from Las Hurdes council, and he became the stumbling block for the distribution of Las Hurdes, which for years could not be shown, hence its relative obscurity alongside Buñuel’s famous early works from the end of his Paris phase ({emUn Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or). Besides that, Buñuel received threats from the Falange, an aggressive nationalist group that was survived until Franco’s death in 1975.

Las Hurdes is also well-known for its disruption of the documentary code. The so-called documentary factual presentation of evidence provided by the director was not adhered to by Buñuel, advancing by decades the discussion about, and doubts over, the specificity of the documentary form. The production interacted with the locals and the voice-over by Abel Jacquin adds an ironic note and comment to the curious camerawork. In short, Buñuel did not intend to neutrally explain a reality with a film, but rather create an expression of his amazement at such a strange reality. It is worth pointing out, though, that Buñuel probably did not set out to make a film to deconstruct the conventions of documentary – which by 1933 were not fully formed and established anyway – but, as he states in a programme profiling him on French television in 1964, he always acted by instinct and not ideas, being the Surrealist that he was. His genius was to follow his instinct when it was pointing to the right direction.