Land Without Bread (1933)

Luis Buñuel made this documentary about Las Hurdes, an impoverished land in Spain. He uses an unsympathetic touch as he looks at the camera's victims. They are dying of malaria, riddled with starvation, and over populated. Occasionally, a river will run through the middle of the town and all the inhabitants will make the most of it. Though the water is filthy and unsanitary, they drink it and bathe in it. Some of the children soak pieces of bread in it, because they are unaccustomed to the food (hence the name of the project).
For a film that took two months to research and shoot, "Land Without Bread" is remarkably short, like many other Buñuel pieces. Coming from a surrealist, this movie seems odd. But keep in mind that everything the man made didn't have to have his own philosophy in it. With "Un Chien Andalou" Buñuel proved that he was willing to show anything...and to such ghastly effect he does. The same determination is present in "Land Without Bread" but this time it has a naturalistic feeling.The camera watching a man in fever shakes and a child dying in the middle of the street—she hasn't moved in three days. A mule is attacked by bees and a goat missteps and tumbles off a cliff.
Perhaps Buñuel is making a point that nature is undoubtedly cruel and filled with unpleasantness. Or maybe "Land Without Bread" is a film that is just what its face value implies—a humanitarian work.Unlike "Nanook of the North" which proved that humans can thrive anywhere they choose, "Land Without Bread" seems man as a victim to circumstance, unable to do better.
Entire families will sleep in one room...beds are luxuries that many cannot afford.
The influence of the film is not necessary obvious...but looking at the unflinching and unemotional way the camera watches dying people on the street brings back memories to Monty Python skits...most notably "bring out your dead".
Could this be the beginning of the radical documentary?...I'm hesitant to say so.
In the end, this incredibly short work feels slightly like propaganda; but considering the pains the film makers had to go through to bring the film to screen, I think it's justified in being that.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4 

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