Film Scouts Reviews

"Tierra y libertad (Land and Freedom)"

by Henri Béhar

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Whatever happened, in today's world, to the ideals and political involvements of our younger years? One of the (several) preoccupations of Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Good Men, Good Women", this question is very much at the heart of Ken Loach's "Land and Freedom".

Set in the 1936 Spanish war that confirmed Franco's power, the film follows Dave Carr (Ian Hart), a young unemployed Liverpudlian Communist who, aroused by a speech about the injustices in Spain, heads to Barcelona to fight for land and freedom and, full of missionary zeal and passion, joins the POUM, the Workers' Party for Marxist Unification. (Carr's itinerary is reconstructed by his grand-daughter, who has picked up the anti-fascist fight where he left off.)

After "Fatherland" (1986), which was set in Germany, this is the second time the author of "Poor Cow", "Family Life", "Riff-Raff" and "Ladybird, Ladybird" leaves Great-Britain, so to speak. Fighting and falling in love come from the same emotional impulse; a former (still is) documentary filmmaker, Loach excels in capturing the romantic drive of the fighters--a bunch of amateurs, however strong their will-- their heroism mixed with confusion as they try to cope with inadequate arms and fragmented organization.

An exaltation of the fight against "the Beast", "Land and Freedom" is, in equal measure, an indictment of Stalinism, as it recalls the way Republican armies, under strict orders from Moscow, crushed the other anti-Franco movements, particularly the anarchists and the Trotskyites.

The story is based on facts, but, though shooting straight from the hip with a solid dose of humor, Loach elevates it to legend. In so doing, he becomes a tad demonstrative, which, for some, was somewhat the problem for such films as "Hidden Agenda". One may prefer his British working class chronicles ("Kes", "Poor Cow", "Ladybird, Ladybird"), but Loach's voice and discourse remain as strong and deeply-felt as ever. As young Dave Carr, actor Ian Hart, who portrayed John Lennon twice ("The Hours and Times", "Backbeat"), is exceptional.

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