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Thursday, April 19, 2007

LAND AND FREEDOM (1995) - Ken Loach

The Spanish Civil War, which took place in the four years leading up to World War two is a conflict somewhat overlooked by modern cinema. Apart from Guillermo Del Toro's fantastic 2006 film, Pan's Labyrinth, not many major international pictures tackle the subject at any length. However, in 1995, Ken Loach released Land And Freedom. Ian Hart plays the role of David Carr, an unemployed Liverpudlian, and a card carrying member of the Communist Party. Inspired by a speech from a Spanish comrade, Carr heads to Spain to fight with the Republican forces against Franco's Facist army. He hooks up with members of the POUM militia as they hold the line against the Facist forces. At first, the camaraderie runs thick. But as political ideals collide, cracks in the militia appear. Carr heads off to join the International Brigade to find signs of the Communist ideal, but his beliefs are tested as in fighting between the anti-Facists threatens any chances they have for victory.

With historical film, it is very easy to descend into a simple statement of facts. However, Loach handles the scope of the civil war very well, while still presenting an intimate story through Carr and his comrades. The tone of the film is very similar to that of 2006's The Wind That Shakes The Barley, a film that dealt with the Irish Civil War. As with the Irish film, Loach does include some scenes that involve long discussions, this time dealing with the idea of collectivization after liberation. However, these scenes don't kill the pace of the film. The acting is very good for the most part. Loach seems to give his actors free reign to make mistakes but carry on, which gives the film a very real quality. Something that Hollywood productions would balk at. However, while somewhat noticeable, it doesn't detract from the film. Loach's direction is fine, and while the battle scenes aren't as visceral as some productions, they do capture the immediacy of the moment.

Overall, Land And Freedom presents a very engaging and intelligent portrayal of a conflict almost forgotten due to being overshadowed by World War 2. Available on Artificial Eye DVD with commentary by Ken Loach, a behind the scenes documentary and the usual trailers and filmographies. Well worth checking out.

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