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
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