Luis Bunuel's LAND WITHOUT BREAD is a searing and excoriating landmark documentary, depicting the appallingly backward and impoverished conditions of a miserable region of Spain known as Las Hurdes.
Unknown even in Spain until a road was built in 1922, the region of Las Hurdes lies on the northwest coast of the country, near Portugal, and is cut off from the rest of Spain by a mountain range. There is no folklore, songs, or culture. Houses have no windows or chimneys, and most of its 6,000
inhabitants have never eaten bread. The only water sources are mosquito-filled creeks which are used for drinking as well as washing. Malnutrition and lack of hygiene are responsible for malaria, goiter, and other diseases, while constant intermarriage and incest results in retardation and
dwarfism. Children go to school barefoot, and though they're famished, they're still taught to respect private property.
The Hurdanos's diet consists of beans and potatoes, and an occasional pig for some of the wealthier families, while goats are eaten only when they fall from the cliffs. Most earn money by selling honey from bee hives, although many men and mules end up being stung to death while trying to
transport the hives over the mountains. Chronic dysentery is another problem, caused by eating unripe cherries, while the leaves of wild strawberry trees are used for bedding as well as to produce fertilizer. When a baby dies, it is taken down the river in a trough to the nearest cemetery in the
next town. Most of the townspeople will eat, sleep, and die in the same room. The only things of luxury in the village are the churches, and an old woman roams the streets at night ringing a bell and reciting the Ave Maria.
Following his two surrealist masterpieces, the classic short UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1929) and the notorious L'AGE D'OR (1930), Bunuel made LAND WITHOUT BREAD because of his fascination with a scientific study of Las Hurdes written by Maurice Legendre, director of the French Institute in Madrid. Using
money which was given to him by an anarchist teacher friend named Ramon Acin (later executed by Franco) who had won the money in a lottery, Bunuel traveled to Las Hurdes with a cameraman and two assistants, spending about a month filming there. After shooting, Bunuel and French poet Pierre Unik
wrote a commentary, and incredibly, Bunuel edited the film on a kitchen table using a magnifying glass because he didn't have a moviola. Following a private screening for a group of Spanish intellectuals, the film was immediately banned by the government for presenting a "defamatory" portrait of
Spain, and it was not shown to the public until 1937 in France.
LAND WITHOUT BREAD is a stunningly savage attack on poverty and the hierarchy of church and state that allows and perpetuates it. Perhaps as a response to critics who called his previous films "perverted" and "morbid," Bunuel confronts the viewer with a concrete reality created by nature that is
so hideous, it practically dares one to look away and pretend it's not true. Shot in an ironic travelogue style, and featuring a detached, scientific commentary, the film contains one haunting, horrible image after another: the haggard, wrinkled old woman whom we're told is only 32-years-old;
babies being washed in filthy water; a sick, abandoned child lying in the street; a goat falling off a cliff (a natural occurrence, although Bunuel later admitted he actually shot it off, as indicated by the gunsmoke at the bottom of the frame); a dead donkey's eye being swarmed over by wasps
(looking like an outtake from UN CHIEN ANDALOU, and fitting right in with Bunuel's insect fetish); the toothless, mirthless grins of some dwarfs and retarded people who are playing hide-and-seek; a baby's corpse floating down the river; the contrast of the peasants' houses and the luxurious, local
church; and the final image of the old woman ringing a bell and ranting about God. The music by Brahms adds a lyrical counterpoint to the intensity of the on-screen human misery, helping the film to attain a kind of terrible beauty that's truly unforgettable. Bunuel once said that LAND WITHOUT
BREAD was "perhaps the least gratuitous film I ever made"; it was also the last film he made in his native Spain until VIRIDIANA in 1961. (Adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Rating: NR
- Review: Luis Bunuel's LAND WITHOUT BREAD is a searing and excoriating landmark documentary, depicting the appallingly backward and impoverished conditions of a miserable region of Spain known as Las Hurdes. Unknown even in Spain until a road was built in 1922, th… (more)