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Land and Freedom

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Land and Freedom

Starring: Ian Hart, Rosana Pastor
Director: Ken Loach
Rated: NR
RunTime: 109 Minutes
Release Date: March 1996
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Iciar Bollain, Tom Gilroy, Marc Martinez, Frederic Pierrot, Angela Clarke

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

English Director Kenneth Loach's last film was the brilliant and powerful but hard to watch LADYBIRD, LADYBIRD. This time he brings us LAND AND FREEDOM (Tierra y Libertad) about English men and women going to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The film starts in the present with the death of an old man named David. David is played by Ian Heart who was John Lennon in BACKBEAT. In going through David's effects his granddaughter (Suzanne Maddock) learns out how he was a member of the trade unions and the British Communist party who left the safety of Britain to answer the call to join the socialists, anarchists, and communists in Spain in their battle against the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco.

The movie is shown in flashback as we relive David's life as a member of the Spanish militia. The brilliantly lit cinematography (Barry Ackroyd) and the decaying sets (Martin Johnson) evoke a feel of the desperation of their cause. They are in a ragtag army and fight under miserable conditions. You never see Franco's forces, but somehow the picture conveys the feeling that they must have been much better off since after all at least they have fancy uniforms and a real chain of command. Nevertheless, David loves the militia and in one of his letters writes, "We elect the officers and everything. It's socialism in action - not like the army back home." He is an idealist who thinks, "Revolutions are contagious."

At first the fighting is a lark with both sides trading insults and jokes from their respective foxholes. During this time, David is in bliss. Soon however the militia and the film bogs down in talkfests as thick as molasses. The socialists, anarchists, and communists get locked in long verbal battles over their goals. They each want immediately to remake society exactly according to their recipe and defeating Franco is only of secondary importance. This infuriates David.

The script by Jim Allen gets so wordy that you feel like screaming "enough already, back to the story." A little of this infighting is fascinating; extremely long scene after scene of it is not. A typical battle among the leftists has the socialists thinking dirt poor farmers should be allowed to keep their measly four acres of land whereas the communists believe that they should immediately collectivize everything even if that means they starve for a while since the collectives thus far have proven unsuccessful.

The acting by Ian Heart is quite good. The acting by the rest of the cast, Blance (Rosana Pastor), Maite (Iciar Bollain), Lawerence (Tom Gilroy), Vidal (Marc Martinez), and Bernard (Frederic Pierrot) is okay, but nothing special. The historical perspectives the film provides from the inside of the Militia is fascinating, but the picture drags incredibly through its long middle. It needed much stronger editing than Jonathan Morris provided.

LAND AND FREEDOM runs 1:49, but should have been shorter and more focused. It is in English and Spanish with English subtitles. It is not rated, but would probably be rated R. There is no sex, no nudity, a couple of uses of the F word, and only mild violence considering this is a war picture. It would be fine for any teenager. I liked a lot of the picture, but the long, slow, and pedantic middle was too much for me to be able to recommend it. I do give it ** for many good parts.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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