Images and Voices from Beyond the National: How the ‘Trans’ Affected Spanishness in the Cinema of J.A. Bardem



Juan Antonio Bardem (1922-2002) is a key cineaste if one wants to understand the evolution of Spanish cinema and its place in the history of European and World cinemas today. Since the 1950s, Bardem contested official nationalist cinema with often hermetic and symbolic narratives that spoke about Francoism’s cultural backwardness, its rigid religious and moral values, and its strict repression against those who lost the Civil War. With major critical and commercial successes as Muerte de un ciclista/Death of a cyclist (1955), Calle Mayor/Main Street (1956), Bardem achieved world recognition as an auteur, and started a career characterised by a clear fetish, hybridised transnational aestheticism. His cinema’s promiscuous relationship with Italian Neorealim and the conventions of the Hollywood genre film would eventually favour a hybrid cinema, which influenced the representation and the expression of identity within the national environment of Francoism. Due in part to the implications of European co-productions and in part to Bardem’s prolific use of intertextuality and obsessive focus on the “other cinemas” as an aesthetic and cultural starting point that both suited his political vision of nationhood and his vision of cinema as an industry, the national character or Spanishness of his films was gradually compromised.  Using Mark Betz research on European co-productions during the 1950s and 1960s, this article also explores how the use of foreign actors and intra-national dubbing bespoke a political and aesthetic detachment, and how commercial and marketing strategies might have ended up suffocating identity and political detachment. I argue that while the Francoist’s enforced policy of dubbing foreign films into neutral Castilian Spanish helped nationalise foreign cinema and avoid international cultural and political intoxications, the use of foreign actors to represent Spanish roles in the films of Bardem contributed to a cancellation of the nationalistic purposes of such policies. Bardem’s cinema, although maintaining a detached position vis-à-vis Francoist official national narratives and aesthetics, was able to communicate Spanishness from the perspective of dissidence as long as his films were read as art cinema that contested other national cinema. On the other hand, the increasing tendency of co-productions with the purpose of counteracting or levelling up with the hegemony of Hollywood in Europe proved that the imbricate hybridised internalisation not only cancelled national discourses but also the identity of films, and as a consequence, of the director.

Keywords: J.A. Bardem, Spanish Cinema, Transnational Cinema, Pastiche, Subtitles and nationality, European cinema

How to Cite: Urda, J. (2015) “Images and Voices from Beyond the National: How the ‘Trans’ Affected Spanishness in the Cinema of J.A. Bardem”, Studies in Arts and Humanities. 1(2). doi: