‘El Camino’ Tells the Story of Village Life under Franco

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Ana Mariscal’s El Camino is a historical document for anyone who wishes to study Franco era Spain, though the production values are admittedly not amazing. The film’s significance both to history and the present do make it worth watching at least once. (GPG: 2.5/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

The first we see of Daniel, the main character in El Camino, is him listening to his parents, relatively isolated from his family and the rest of his village in a world of his own.  Before we are introduced to Daniel, we see shots of his village itself–Spanish architecture, the mountains nearby, and the road that the film’s name alludes to. El Camino means “the way” or “the road” in Spanish, as those who studied Spanish in school or watched the Breaking Bad film adaptation of the same name may already know. This can mean a literal road, like the one the camera lingers on in the opening credits when the title itself is shown, or it can be more metaphorical as it often is in English. This has to do with how Daniel must leave his village soon to go study in the city, as well as the question the film brings up of what the right way to navigate a fascist regime might be.

This film is a classic “political issues through the eyes of a child” kind of story. Daniel is going through his typical childhood/ pre-adolescent turbulence during the height of Franco-era Spain, and this suffuses the work in many ways. The concerns of the adults in Daniel’s life are usually affected by the dictatorship in one way or another, and Daniel’s needing to go study in the city seems at least somewhat related to the new demands being made on rural people by the Franco regime. One repeating image is that of a bird singing in a cage, bringing up ideas of restricted people who are still finding small moments of joy and freedom despite the fact that they are fundamentally not free.

One thing I noticed strongly about the film was that the acting was…spectacularly bad. In the 60s the acting style in most movies is more theatrical and hamfisted than what we see as normal in 2020, but I thought that even despite that, compared to other 60s movies it was pretty badly acted all around. The child actor who plays the main character is one of the better ones, and probably would fit in with other performers of the 60s. Otherwise, it was kind of hard to take many of the performances in this film seriously. One emotional moment did come at the end of the film, where a parting between two characters does feel like it hits the emotional beats that it is going for.

As a relic of the Franco era in Spain, this film is considered to be a very accurate portrayal of the issues that came up and the pressures that were put on the people living in villages like Daniel’s. I of course am not an expert on Franco era Spain, either through historical knowledge or family stories. What I’ve found online is a general consensus that the film is considered pretty accurate as far as the struggles the people in the village are going through. Anyone who has other information is invited to comment below; this reviewer is very open to additional perspectives on the film, especially since the research material to be found on the internet is so sparse!

All in all, if you like classic Spanish-language cinema, you’ll probably want to check this movie out on Turner Classic Movies through their Women Make Film initiative. Further, if you’re interested in Franco-era Spain, you’ll want to see its portrait of how the regime impacted the everyday lives of people living in the countryside. However, few may choose to rewatch it due to a meandering plotline and sub-par performances. While it seems to be meant as a “slice of life” movie, that goes a little far with this one, or possibly just isn’t carried by the other technical aspects of the film.

© Copyright FF2 Media Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (9/9/20)

Does El Camino pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes! There are some moments of a relationship between a mother and a daughter that do indeed pass the Bechdel-Wallace test, even though the film is mostly about the young boy Daniel.

Top Photo: Daniel alone in his room.

Middle Photo: Two of the adults whose problems seem incomprehensible to Daniel.

Bottom Photo: Daniel exploring his village–and himself.

Photo Credit: Ana Mariscal

Tags: FF2Media, TCM

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Giorgi Plys-Garzotto is a journalist and copywriter living in Brooklyn. She especially loves writing about queer issues, period pieces, and the technical aspects of films. Some of her favorite FF2 pieces she's written are her review of The Game Changers, her feature on Black Christmas, and her interview with the founders of the Athena Film Festival! You can also find more of her work on her website!
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