Vida en sombras (1949)
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‘Vida en sombras’ [Life in shadows] is a film by Llobet Gràcia, a Catalan filmmaker coming from amateur cinema, who, during the post-war period, with modest means and far from the official sanction of the Fascist government, delved into the power of cinema to heal personal and collective wounds.
Llorenç Llobet Gracia (Barcelona, 1911-Sabadell, 1976) had bonded intimately with the world of cinema from the time his his father gave him a Pathé-Baby camera in his youth. This childhood experience is re-enacted at the beginning of ‘Vida en sombras’, the only commercial film he made in 1948, after having developed an intense activity in amateur cinema circles. Produced by himself, under the name Castilla Films, the film, which went through serious financial and censorship obstacles, has a free almost experimental style, outside the established codes of industrial cinema.
The plot, with autobiographical tinges, is about the life of a man born literally in a stall during one of the first cinema screenings in Barcelona. His fascination for Chaplin’s short films and the Pearl White series forge his childhood and, in his youth, he devotes his time to writing for cinema magazines and filming everything he sees. However, the 1936 coup d’état, ruins everything. While the protagonist, performed by Fernando Fernán Gómez, is shooting war images on the street, his pregnant wife, María Dolores Pradera, dies at home, fatally wounded by a burst of ammunition.
Traumatized by guilt, the protagonist decides to give up any contact with the cinema and chooses to fight in the front line. After the war, his best friend and a neighbor take him one evening to see ‘Rebecca’ by Hitchcock. The traumatic contact with this film drives him, bit by bit, to rebuild his need to live for the cinema and so he accepts a professional assignment to shoot a film. As in an endless loop, ‘Vida en sombras’ ends with with his shooting of a sequence that reminds us of the initial sequence in the film, the stall where Carlos and cinema were born.
Built up from a perfect command of ellipsis, this technique allows him to flow along the various biographical moments under review. ‘Vida en sombras’ is a orphic journey into the memory of cinema as an ambivalent tool (both obsessive and therapeutical), where intimacy crashes sooner or later into collective history. Especially memorable is the long sequence where the protagonists, in the house dining room, listen to the news of the Franco’s coup d’état, including a brief connection in Catalan with the palace of the Generalitat [headquarters of the Catalan government], with president Companys. The movements around the flat, between anguish and hope –symbolised in a little statuette of the black Catalan Virgin Moreneta, which on a later scene appears metaphorically beheaded–, are perfectly choreographed in a combination of imposed epic and fragile daily life. Such elaborate sequences as this one indicate an unusual concern for imaginative production. All this considered, ‘Vida en sombras’ –vetoed by the official Franco dictatorship and released almost on the sly, a few years later, at local cinemas– has become one of the essential films of Catalan cinema.
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In 2 official lists
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This movie ranks #19 in Caimán's Top Spanish Films
This movie ranks #30 in Nickel Odeón's Best Spanish Films