Escuela de Barcelona


Escuela de Barcelona
   The so-called "Barcelona School" films were a (limited) manifestation of the impact of European avant-gardes and "new cinemas" of the 1960s on a group of Catalan critics and artists, whose potential for self-expression was severely limited by the political situation in the country. The group included Ricardo Bofill, Jacinto Esteva, Pere Portabella, Vicente Aranda, Joaquin Jordá, and Román Gubern, all inspired by Néstor Almendros, who had just started his collaborations with Eric Rohmer and who, in a historical 1965 visit, brought to Barcelona the fresh influence of the nouvelle vague. A number of artists joined them from outside Catalonia, including filmmakers like José María Nunes (from Portugal), Gonzalo Suárez (from Asturias), and Valencian producer and critic Ricardo Muñoz Suay. This bourgeois, even elitist group, aspired to high cultural status but, following the lead of Andy Warhol and other New York artists, they also assimilated popular culture into their works, something unheard of at the time in Spain and at odds with official notions of "quality." Aesthetically, they were innovative, seeking links between literature, the visual arts, theater, architecture, and design.
   Rather than exploring critical realism and testing the limits of censorship, as their Nuevo cine español colleagues did, the Escuela de Barcelona filmmakers preferred metaphysical, fantasy narratives, with little reference to the real world, which often reflected on the limitations of language. As Jordá succinctly put it, "Since we are not allowed to do Victor Hugo, we can always do Mallarmé." This statement explains their preference for modernist approaches to the detriment of social realism. Given their obscurity, the films were not regarded as "dangerous" by the authorities but consequently they lost any real political potential. For the same reason, their commercial possibilities were low, and very few films completed by these filmmakers had wide releases or reached ordinary cinemas. Funding came from government schemes set up in 1962 by the general director of cinematography, José Maria García Escudero, to support artistically ambitious films, and the movement lost momentum when Escudero left and the fund was canceled in 1968.
   The film that seems to encapsulate the main aspects of the Escuela is Vicente Aranda's 1965 Fata Morgana, co-written with Gonzalo Suárez. The story has interesting similarities to David Lynch's Inland Empire (2007), as both seems to revolve around "a woman in trouble" (played here by Teresa Gimpera, a model who was one of the icons of the period in Barcelona) and is set in a vague postapocalyptic future.
   The protagonist (a model like the actress) seems to be the object of a metaphysical conspiracy to become the victim of a murder. Several characters stalk her, sometimes in groups, sometimes individually under a number of disguises, and there seems to be a detective who is sent by unnamed authorities to protect her. This all takes place in a deserted, futuristic Barcelona where characters talk in absurdist set speeches and threatening vans recommend evacuation.
   Around 1966, Muñoz Suay started to write a series of articles in the popular film magazine Fotogramas promoting the Escuela de Barcelona phenomenon as Spain's main hope to produce aesthetically ambitious films. Dante no es únicamente severo (Dante Is Not Only Severe, 1967), directed by Jacinto Esteva and Joaquin Jordá, was held up as a manifesto of the movement's new kind of cinema. Set against a background reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up (1965), the film featured attempts at capturing reality through technical means and a typically fragmentary, convoluted, and hermetic plot involving models and artists that left far behind any reference to the real world.
   Besides Aranda, whose later work substantially distanced itself from the premises of the Escuela, the main figure to come out of the school and who went on to have a substantial career in which some Escuela aspects would recur was Gonzalo Suárez, a fiction writer and director totally committed to self-reflective, literary films. Ditirambo (1967), a kind of absurdist thriller, is the best remembered of his films. It was followed by increasingly obscure literary fantasies in the same vein, including El extraño caso del doctor Fausto (The Strange Case of Doctor Faust, 1969) and Aoom (1970). Other instances of Escuela de Barcelona films include Nunes' Noche de Vino tinto (Night of Red Wine, 1966), Carles Durán's Cada vez que estoy enamorado creo que es para siempre (Each Time I Fall In Love I Think It Will Be Forever, 1967), Portabella's Nocturno 29 (Night Music 29, 1968), and Esteva's Después del diluvio (After the Deluge, 1970).
   When funds eventually became an issue, an attempt was made to find a compromise between commercial products and more innovative films. Tuset Street (1968) was a musical set in some of the gathering places of the Escuela members and starred Sara Montiel, one of the biggest stars of the previous decade, at that time seeking new directions in her career. The project floundered, further evidence of the Escuela's difficulties to bridge the demands of art and commerce.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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