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Nation, race, and masculinity: the cinematic representation of the Spanish Legion after the Spanish Civil War


Decentring Axis cinema – Filmmaking in states allied to Nazi Germany
A Leverhulme Trust Workshop-University of Manchester

2nd-3rd April, 2015.

This proposal aims at considering the ideals about nation, race and masculinity in Spanish films portraying the Legion after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Made up of rootless and ruthless mercenaries coming from a variety of countries, the Spanish Legion played a major role in the Rebel army during the Spanish War. Nevertheless, the most prominent cinematic portrayals of the Legion at that period (I fidanzati della morte, R. Marcellini, 1938; Cielo Spagnolo. Aviazione Legionaria da caccia nella guerra di Spagna, D. Paolella, 1938) were not devoted to the Spanish contingent, nor they were carried out by the Spanish filmmakers, but by Italian experimental documentary-makers. After the conflict, Franco (himself a prominent officer within the Legion during the 1920’s and 1930’s) felt grateful to those having helped to win the war. Consequently, between 1939 and 1942 he institutionally supported films praising the deadly values of the Legion, on the one hand with the sponsorship of the High Commission of Spain in Morocco, and secondly through a Spanish-Italian co-production (L’uomo della legione, R. Marcellini, 1940).

In reason of its peripheral geographic location, and the transnational composition of the Spanish Legion, the cinematic portrayal provided by those films evidenced contradictions regarding modern totalitarian ideals about nation, race, and masculinity, at a moment in which Franco was progressively taking distances regarding Germany. A careful look onto the film production of the time reveals a more significant closeness regarding Italy on the cultural and symbolic dimension; something ensured by the catholic orientation of the Spanish Board of Censorship ―which was belligerent regarding questions as anti-Semitism, divorce, or suicide―, and by the Italian colonial experiences in Africa. By providing a historical perspective on a key moment regarding the diplomatic relationships between Spain and the Axis, and through the film analysis of L’uomo della legione (R. Marcellini, 1940), ¡A mí la legión! (Follow the Legion!, J. de Orduña, 1942), and Legión de héroes (Legion of Heroes, Armando Saville and Juan Fortuny, 1942) I intend to establish a cinematic correspondence to the thesis supported by historians that even though Spain was aligned with the Axis, it was a doubtful ally to Nazi Germany.

See full program. More information at Decentring Axis Cinema blog.

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