Myth making and myth breaking: unity and difference in Spanish and French film Introduction: Summary of each of the three films (title, director, year of release, short synopsis) Point out that they are all comedies and why this is. Introduce the theme of national identity giving quick background on what Herder/Unamuno/Ganivet considered to constitute a nation. Short outline of history of national unity in France and Spain and how regionalism plays an important role in the way individuals identify themselves. There are three different levels of identity (national, regional, individual/personal). Talk about the titles of the films i.e. ‘Welcome!’ … this leads into the idea of movement and boundaries, exoticism. Myth making and myth breaking are inextricably linked with communication and thus function in both directions (inwards i.e. assimilating culture and myth, and outwards i.e. projecting culture and myth). Mention the words ‘cultural transmission’ i.e. stereotypes/cinema generally/performances. 1) Performance/stereotypes/myth making Cinema has long been an indispensable tool in portraying, projecting and promoting national identity and, in the past, has been often used as an effective myth-making (propaganda) tool by European governments, particularly in times of conflict. (more specific example needed here –what was projected and why? Demonising the enemy to promote sense of national unity – Germany? Boost morale). Susan Hayward has examined to what extent French cinema exploits and creates specifically national myths of identity (stereotypes), reflecting ‘the texture of society at a national level’ [____]. From an examination of these three films in particular, it is clear that cinema is able to exploit and create myths of identity not just on a national level but on a regional and personal (really? – more that projects regional and national and we infer something about individuals?) level too. These myths are shown to be constructed using performance and are based on stereotypes that are deeply ingrained in the psyche of the “foreigners” they are projected to and often too in the minds of those projecting them. The projection of identity is a multi-directional process, depending on what a nation, region or individual wants to promote and what they believe their “audience” wants to see. Explicitly referred to as performances and aided by the use of costumes, props, sets and the film’s mise-en-scène, these myths/stereotypes are exaggerated to the extent that they are subverted by the comedy they induce, thus breaking them. What does the fragility of these myths in the hands of comedic actors and film directors convey to the viewer about projections of national
identity and how representative are they? What motivates these performances and who “directs” them? By using humour to undermine the myths constructed by performance is the viewer being invited by Berlanga, Boon and Tati to be sceptical of this type of cultural transmission? Films in themselves are performances in that they are an artistic visual construction on the part of the film director. The director carefully constructs the mise-en-scène in such a way to best aid the communication of the storyline and/or message of the film. It is the mise-en-scène that marks film out as a performance and closely allies it to theatre. In ¡Bienvenido Mister Marshall! Luis García Berlanga maintains a constant sense of distance between the viewer and the fictional space of Villar del Río. At the very opening of the film, a still focus on a dusty and winding road, lined with trees and fields and vanishing into the meseta, situates the viewer at the centre of this celebrated part of the Castilian countryside. A bus then enters the shot from the right-hand side as it travels at a leisurely pace down the road and approaches the camera. As it passes by, the camera pans 180 degrees to the left to follow it and to focus on the town sign announcing Villar del Río. The bus drives on and the camera remains for a few moments on the outskirts of the town looking in, thus introducing the distance Berlanga will maintain particularly explicitly in the new few scenes. This shot, which leaves the viewer surveying the town from afar just outside of its boundaries, also reinforces the idea of the gaze of foreigners. sets up the viewer for a later understanding of the way in which the town being perceived by outsiders and the image it will later try to project through performance. As the camera, and thus the viewer, is permitted to move into the town a voice-over narrator begins speaking and the viewer’s sense of a performance being acted out is highlighted by the narrator’s first line, ‘Érase una vez un pueblo español…’, because this is an opening line common to fables and fairy stories in Spanish. The narrator proceeds to then introduce the characters of the film and inhabitants of the town with various appropriate epithets and snippets of information. In an affectionate, indulgent tone, for example, Don Luis, the local hidalgo is described as always ‘esperando una carta que nunca llega’ because the ancestors he reveres so ‘se olvidan de escribirle, por lo visto.’ It is as if the narrator is reading from the stage directions of a play and the characters are never developed past the stage of being merely characters. This is also partly due to the way in which the narrator, who is omnipresent and omniscient, is able to remove the them at will from the frame, giving the camera free access into the emptied town. He can pause the action in order to give himself more time in which to introduce each character and even zooms in on Genaro, the bus driver, exclaiming: ‘Quizá éste un poco lejos, ¡así lo ven mejor!’ The characters function as powerless two-dimensional types at the mercy of the narrator-director who makes them do his bidding. The narrator is portrayed as having a direct influence on the characters because of his
pausing of the action: he apologises and quickly unfreezes the film when he realises that Genaro has been frozen in the process of unloading which must be heavy (put quote in here from narrator). Furthermore, during some of the first scenes in which the narrator introduces the town and its inhabitants, Berlanga uses a “God shot” to look down on them. The narrator-director is an omnipotent deity. The downwards gaze of the viewer onto the town square in which townspeople mill around renders the scene like a model of the town in miniature and the camera is never placed so that the viewer sees what a character is meant to be seeing. This camera work is indicative of the view of outsiders looking in on Franco’s Spain of the early 1950s. Despite the regime’s attempts to project a national image of economic self-sufficiency and cultural and historical greatness as a product of ‘¡Una España una, grande y libre!’ (‘A united, great and free Spain!), this constant distance imposed by Berlanga between viewer and characters and the lack of opportunity for identification with the characters subversively undermines this performance, directed by Franco, and staged by his ministers on behalf of Spain. Outsiders watching this performance would have seen instead a country that (barely) functioned, was politically and socially isolated, technologically backward and inward-looking. Thus, the mise-en-scène discussed above breaks Franco’s desired myth of unity and greatness and undermines Spain’s projected national identity in the 1950s. The fragility of this particular myth shows predominantly that projections of national identity on the part of a country’s leader are not infallibly trustworthy and are more closely aligned to mere performance and the spinning of national fictional yarns than based in fact. This is not the case for most kinds of stereotype are, however. Stereotypes of nations, regions and individuals usually contain some element of truth that has been exaggerated. The difference here is that Franco was more concerned with hiding the truth of the nation’s predicament and making entirely new myths/reverting to long-dead versions of Spanish national identity (mention conquistador stereotype) than he was at upholding existing ones. The characters themselves are stock types that conform to This does not happen in JDF either – we always follow François at a distance and often with the camera placed so that it is looking down on him [check this!]. [Find more on the mise-en-scène of JDF and BCLC]. There are the performances of the actors on screen but in BMM, too, the townspeople of Villar del Río also become actors. Describe here how the townspeople prepare, rehearse and play out a large-scale welcoming party for the American diplomats soon to be arriving in the town. Mention that it is done according to an American view of Spain/what the Americans want to see (according to Manolo, a Spaniard who has lived in Boston for many years i.e. someone who has moved and broadened horizons/crossed boundaries). They use costume (traditional dress and headwear) and props (actual stage sets to make streets, live bull, Spanish guitar, flowers) to put on a performance of what they think the Americans will want to see/what will seduce the Americans into bestowing economic aid.
What is ironic is that they actually filmed BMM in a real town, not a stage set. They only had to build a more Castilian(!)-looking church and a fountain. as is the case in JDF (filmed in Sainte______) and BCLC (filmed in ____ in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais). The old mining village becomes the stage set for regional identity in BCLC. Outline the stereotype held by southerners of the north of France (beer-drinking hooligans, absolutely freezing, poverty-stricken, vulgar). Julie makes Philippe wear a massively warm ski jacket and woolly hat and Raphael is worried his father’s toes will fall off. The stereotype had been reinforced by the great uncle who has a very dated version of the region – he tells it like a fable/story/myth. Philippe’s friends help him uphold this myth (what Philippe calls ‘quelques clichés’) to Julie to satisfy her. They change their clothes, drink beer, speak and act a certain way. The exaggerated nature of the performance is amusing and underlines the absurdity of the myth that has been built up. In BCLC, too, Philippe pretends to be disabled in order to get a transfer in his job and has to use the prop of a wheelchair to carry out this performance to the inspector. He hides evidence of the truth and puts on a different voice too. The magic/myth is broken when he stands up to shake his visitor’s hand! Outwards direction – projection. This role-playing/performance subscribes to the stereotypical picture postcard of Spain held in the minds of foreigners and the (Castilian) townspeople dress themselves up as Andalusians because it is this region’s culture that has become synonymous with Spain as a whole (example of synecdoche). They learn bullfighting and flamenco (also performances). Outline how Franco wanted to create ‘Una España una, grande y libre’ so suppressed/eradicated difference within regions to create a “unified” whole. Having been isolationist in policy, Spain was starting to realise it desperately needed to open itself up to the rest of the world to survive. Dichotomy of wanting to be exotic/different/separate but wanting this exactly because of a need to open ones borders. Iribarne slogan to entice foreigners during ‘apertura’ which succeeds BMM. It is ironic that, whilst they, like Iribarne’s slogan, make an attempt to entice foreigners, they do so by subscribing to the exotic vision of Spain held by outsiders and thus do not prove that there existed versions of Spain other than this stereotype. Unlike the Americans who will only see what they have already envisioned, these Spaniards have little idea what to expect of them when they arrive thanks to their isolation from other countries and the fact that their limited access to American culture is through film. More inwards projection JDF – scene in which fair worker chats up local girl and plays along to the Western being screened, the film’s dialogue becoming his own. As soon as the film stops, the magic is broken and the girl is no longer enchanted by him (hero-worship of more sophisticated culture). Another performance. More inwards projection BCLC slapstick with the wheelchair reminds me very much of the slapstick humour/physical comedy performed by Tati as François in JDF. François (dressed very much like Charles de Gaulle/rural postman) performs his daily round in a hilariously funny manner. Myth that the American way of doing things is the best way completely subverted by the humour of the way in which he goes about his work (losing his bicycle/destroying parcels etc). He has assimilated ideas filtering their way into France through FILM. Conclusions just as we are able to distinguish between reality and fiction in film and read films as fictions/myths, is it that we should also be sceptical about national identity? Identity, whether it be of a nation, a region of that nation or the people within them, is one big performance often directed by the head of state in the national case in order to project something (with political motives) further afield. It involves myth making and often serves to create stereotypes or at least uphold them. (Stereotypes are myths too). We should feel sceptical about projections of national identity because of the motives behind them but, unlike Franco, we must not overlook regional and personal identity. Lack of autonomy seen in BMM (with hats, costumes, assimilation of Andalusian culture) and also seen when in BCLC characters take on
stereotypes (they are acting and so lose identity â€“ merely follow stereotype unthinkingly), stock type/archetypes of character in BMM (priest, hidalgo, schoolteacher etc). When FranĂ§ois takes on American practices he is not being true to his own culture. Individual and regional identity and differences are suppressed in order to create one unified national identity. Must make sure constantly throughout pointing out the comedy (why it is funny, why it is subversive and what this shows us about the myths it is subverting). 2)
Berlanga, Tati, Boon