Spain: Inside/Out

Image from the film THE SILENCE OF OTHERS

The statues featured in THE SILENCE OF OTHERS, on a mountaintop in the Valley of Jerte, by sculptor Francisco Cedenilla. (Photo Credit: Almudena Carracedo)

As an expression, “inside out” can be used as an adverb or an adjective that connotes the ability to see the innards of an outward surface: it also speaks of deep knowledge, and of chaos – turning something inside out.

These three films, The Silence of Others, The Hidden City and Fire Will Come, speak to what lies below the surface of our commonly held assumptions about Spain, the Spain of beaches, wine and sun. Since the 1960s Spain promoted itself touristically as “different”—“España es diferente” acted as the official slogan. Geographically, Spain finds itself between Europe and Africa, between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, though again, a common phrase decrees “Africa begins at the Pyrenees.” Culturally and socially, Spain has been affected by over 900 years of Arab occupation (711–1492), and historically, until the present day, there exist tensions amongst its diverse regions and populations, such as the Galicians and Basques in the north, the Catalans to the east. Spain remained outside both World Wars, taking a neutral stance for political reasons. In the 21st century, Spain has embraced the European Union, the Euro, the anxieties of repressed memories and the hidden darkness of its past.

Keywords that evoke the inside/outside aspect of these films occur in their titles: “silence,” “hidden” and “fire.” In post-dictatorial Spain an erasure of the memory of the Civil War (1936-39) and the ensuing 40 years of Franco’s reign prevailed due to an imposed and implicit silence of others, those against Franco. In 2007, with the Law of Historical Memory, this silence became unsealed and the elegy to these outspoken voices forms the base of The Silence of Others. As well, the hidden dark depths of Madrid—its sewers, its metro, and crypts—represent an allegory of such sequestered memories of times past in Spain. The Hidden City documents the insides of these psycho-geographic spaces through a poetic cinematography. In the Galician title, O que arde, the verb “to burn” stands out and the fire of the English title, Fire Will Come reveals cleansing, a purification, although the flames also bring destruction as they consume a forest in Galicia and burn its outside to reveal its insides of skeleton trees.

Three very different films, they appear as documentaries but also blend genres of drama, fact, fiction, philosophical meditations. They turn our vision of Spain inside out as they investigate, uncover and question what is on the inside of the outside of assumed sociocultural topographies of Spain. The series connects with the course Perspectives on Spain, offered in the Dept of Romance Studies, the cosponsor of the series, which is free.

Special thanks to Cecelia Lawless, who teaches the course and wrote this article.