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Paseo: Poetry to Disarm a War — by Amjad Majid

Feb 7, 2019

The Spanish Civil War and its memorialization has become an institution unto itself in contemporary Spain. On a yearly basis, new films, novels, poems, texts of fiction, scholarship and research emerge to expand the culture of revisiting, exploration and study brought about by this defining event of Spanish history. One such film, a short one, is the 2007 Paseo (translated “A Walk”) that takes one of the most famous poems by Mario Benedetti (“Corazón coraza,” translated “Armored Heart”) to weave a story about three men waiting for an inevitable encounter.

The Spanish Civil War and its memorialization has become an institution unto itself in contemporary Spain. On a yearly basis, new films, novels, poems, texts of fiction, scholarship and research emerge to expand the culture of revisiting, exploration and study brought about by this defining event of Spanish history. One such work is the 2007 short film Paseo (translated “A Walk”) that takes one of the most famous poems by Mario Benedetti (Corazón coraza, translated “Armored Heart”) to weave a story about three men waiting for an inevitable encounter.

Written and directed by Arturo Ruiz Serrano and staring José Sacristán, Paco Tous and Carlos Santos, the short film traces the fate of three men who are strangers to one another and exchange a brief moment before walking together into the ominous horizon from the scene of their encounter. A bohemian poet (José Sacristán), a farmer (Paco Tous) and a young injured soldier (Carlos Santos) share the last moments of their lives before being taken for “A Walk.” “El Paseo” or “The Walk” was code name for an execution during the civil war where countless people were taken from their homes and places of work to then never be seen again.

Spain has its own history of mass graves, enforced disappearances, kidnappings, executions and extra-judicial killings from that era, so much so that much of the art produced about such difficult yet highly relevant topics is crucial for greater understanding at a global and multicultural level. It is no wonder then that Picasso's Guernica is the most famous painting of modern art. As for the genre of film, the earliest features started appearing during the civil war itself on the international scene, with films like American director James P. Hogan's The Last Train from Madrid from 1937. Since then there has been a consistent effort at an international level to treat the subject of the civil war in popular cinema, apart from numerable documentaries and Oscar-nominated and Sundance-featured films.

Nonetheless, the films made by Spanish filmmakers on the subject have a distinct approach to engaging with the civil war mainly because of cultural nuance and specificity, which is heavily critiqued as missing in Hemingway's novel-turned-to-film For Whom the Bell Tolls, despite its international recognition. That is precisely the reason why homegrown cinema about the Spanish Civil War is important and necessary. In particular, Arturo Ruiz Serrano's Paseo extends that relevance of homegrown Spanish film-making when engaging with a difficult motif. In his 2007 short film, symbolism is essential to understanding the historical context of the Spanish Civil War, but more importantly, the focus is on a human dimension to provide a space of reflection about war, life, death, violence and compassion. In that, the film successfully communicates the power of poetry in retrieving the loss that people suffer during war. Even with the inevitable at bay, the film underlines the perseverance of spirit and the utility of poetry to carve situations into meaningful moments, bringing forth the idea that small acts of kindness can resist against the dehumanization that is inherent to war.

Strategically set in the mountains, the film reminds viewers of the Valle de los Caídos (the Valley of the Fallen) in the municipality of San Lorenzo del Escorial, near Madrid, where more than 40,000 people killed in the Spanish Civil War are buried. The site nonetheless is controversial since it was founded by Francisco Franco himself, whose tomb also lies there.

Paseo builds on a greater tradition of film-making around the Spanish Civil War, which has become a genre of its own. In doing so, the short puts emphasis on the microscopic moment of interaction between a poet, a soldier and a farmer, three archetypal figures of the times. In their dialogues, the greater reality of a devastating war is set as the backdrop, one that comes to the foreground at the end of the film. The juxtaposition between three men sharing a brief moment and the lengthy war that encroaches upon them becomes apparent only as the plot unfolds, revealing the magnitude of the tragedy that engulfed all of Spain and took many lives.

The film also coherently portrays its subjects of representation in a neutral manner, one that can be far more relatable, considering the great ideological schism that marked the era. This is necessary to emphasize the human dimension of tragedy, loss and suffering that defines the history of the Spanish Civil War and the thirty years that followed. At the core of the short film is the fact that poetry is employed to retrieve and accentuate the human spirit beyond the constraints of unfathomable situations of death and violence that the body is subject to. 

(Here is an essential list of films based on or set during the Spanish Civil War and of course some classic titles are missing, but this should be considerable enough to get a head start into the fascinating and tragic world of La guerra civil española). 

The short film comes with English subtitles.

About the Director (via PRAGDA)

A graduate of Law at Madrid’s Complutense University, since 2000 Arturo Ruiz Serrano has carried out projects in the audiovisual world as scriptwriter, director and producer. His short films have received over 170 prizes at Spanish and international festivals as well as two nominations for film awards from the Goya Spanish Academy (Baggage 2006 and Walk 2007).

Film Details (via IMDB)

Directed by 

Arturo Ruiz Serrano

Writing Credits (in alphabetical order) 

Arturo Ruiz Serrano

Cast (in credits order)  

José Sacristán José Sacristán ... Miguel
Paco Tous Paco Tous ... Luciano
Carlos Santos Carlos Santos ... Gabino

Music by 

Iván Ruiz Serrano

Cinematography by 

Nicolás Pinzón

Film Editing by 

Ángel Hernández Zoido

Second Unit Director or Assistant Director 

Carlos Padilla García ... assistant director

Camera and Electrical Department 

Carlos Balsera ... electrician / grip
Carlos Hernandez Espinosa ... gaffer / grip
Iñigo Iglesias ... first assistant camera

Editorial Department 

Virginia Llera ... assistant editor

Other crew 

Alexandra Szucs ... production assistant
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About the Contributor

Amjad Majid is the editor and founder of Inverse Journal. He previously worked as a teacher, IT consultant, and research scholar in China, Spain and the US. He is currently working on an art criticism book after having published papers and book chapters in publications from China, India, USA and Canada. His writings have been featured in art catalogues, books, international exhibitions, biennales, art journals and magazines, with translations in Chinese. In his work beyond Inverse Journal, Amjad develops independent projects as a web developer and IT consultant in the creative industry. His interests include literary theory, Spanish and Spanish-American literature, contemporary art, cultural studies, hardware assembly, and information technology.

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