United Kingdom, 1995.
Color, 109 mins, 35 mm. In Spanish, Catalan and English. Scenario by Jim Allen. Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd. Music by George Fenton. Cast: Ian Hart, Rosana Pastor, Iciar Bollain, Tom Gilroy, Marc Martínez, Frédéric Pierrot, Andrés Aladren, Sergi Calleja, Raffaele Cantatore, Pascal Demolon, Paul Laverty, Josep Magem, Jurgen Muller, Victor Roca, Eoin Mccarthy. Parallax Pictures, Messidor Films, Road Movie Dritten .
The title of Ken Loach’s film, Land and Freedom or Tierra y Libertad in Spanish, is misleading because it implies an anarchist point of view. "Tierra y libertad" is a traditional rallying banner identified with anarchists; however, the main protagonist in Loach’s film is a communist militant from the United Kingdom who espouses the cause of the P.O.U.M., an unusual Marxist but anti-Stalinist party that is strong in Catalonia. The point of view of the narrator does not imply any animosity toward anarchists. In fact, they are well depicted, albeit underrepresented. The film’s point of view echoes that of George Orwell in his Homage to Catalonia, which remains the best literary chronicle of the events.
Upon arriving in Catalonia through France, the protagonist, David, is surprised to discover that the railway service has been socialized. Everything has been working efficiently in Barcelona, and David is immediately seduced by this new reality and does not hesitate to join the fight. Through his eyes, we witness all the problems that affect the struggle: fighting against Franco and his allies, avoiding the militarization of an otherwise spontaneous voluntary militia, seeing the progressive deterioration of women’s contribution (now reduced to cooking and nursing). The foreign volunteer feels betrayed by democratic countries, such as France and England, that declare nonintervention and deny weapons to Republican Spain. In addition, there is the shameful behavior of the Soviet Union who sells arms to them, but too late and in exchange for the Gold of the Bank of Spain (a very high price to pay). Stalin, moreover, is not in favor of self-managed socialism and orders his commissars to liquidate the leftists, such as the P.O.U.M. militia as well as the most influential anarchists.
The central scene in Land and Freedom is the meeting in a conquered village where everyone has to decide what to do with the expropriated property of landowner Don Julian. After a careful ideological discussion, a vote is taken and collectivization is approved. David survives the struggle and the repression and returns home carrying in his suitcase some of the earth of Spain, as well as some old newspapers, clippings of articles and photographs that one of his relatives finds after his death (this is how the film starts and ends).
Before going to Spain, David thinks that if Franco wins all of Europe, it will become fascist, and when he returns, he thinks, "If we had succeeded there, we would have changed the world." Some people are still waiting for a second chance. Ken Loach offers us a compelling film, masterfully directed and acted.