The Guernica Tree (1975)
By: Mr Intolerance on April 27, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Hard Corps (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). French DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 98 minutes
The Movie
Director: Fernando Arrabal
Starring: Mariangela Melato, Ron Faber, Bento Urago, Cosimo Cinieri, Franco Ressel, Mario Novelli, Cyril Spiga, Rocco Fontana
Screenplay: Fernando Arrabal
Country: France/Italy
AKA: L' Arbre de Guernica
This isn't horror or exploitation at all – more a surreal exploration of Franco's brutal coup d'etat in Spain in 1936. It's actually pretty bloody affecting and horrible – a film that rubs shoulders with Salo and Men Behind the Sun, but without the exploitative nature (or anywhere near as much explicit gore) of either of those films.

Reasonably dense and quite heavily symbolist in rather a dark and dejected way (for example, the pro-freedom Spanish are characterised with traditional Spanish folk music or singing the Internationale, the fascists with the Horst Wessel Lied, an SA and early SS marching song), there are moments when it all just gets too much to bear – the "bullfight" at the end is totally fucking horrible; the partisans being utterly brutalised at the hands of an inhuman totalitarian regime.

The film makes excellent use of actual stock footage from the time to highlight popular opposition to the fascist uprising. It also works in a similar way to Black Sun – you sort of sit there saying to yourself, it can't have been that horrible, then the director shows that indeed, it was worse. Oh, and it's not just the state that cops it on the chin, the church gets blasted too, for being on the side of the fascists and ignoring the suffering of the common people. The hatred and disrespect the average Joe's have for the church is highlighted by the desecration of various icons in an early scene – certainly a guy pissing in the face of a statue of Christ is pretty strong fare, and the less said about what the dwarf gets up to with the statue of the Virgin Mary, the better…

The basic plot is simple – the besieged fictitious village of Villa Ramira is used as a kind of microcosm for Spain during the Civil War – we have examples of all different layers of society and different political views. The use of dwarves as a kind of underclass is sort of interesting, and I think is meant to enhance the surrealism (although if you've seen Living In Oblivion, you might find otherwise!), and provides some uneasy black humour. It's deliberate, by the way, I'm not having a go at dwarves, although I think the director may have been. The freedom fighters hear of the massacre at Guernica, which ultimately firms their resolve to fight to the bitter end (and it IS pretty fucking bitter). The title of the film comes from the Freedom Tree, which despite the fact that Guernica was razed in a similar fashion to Dresden or Coventry, still stood, literally as (and please excuse the cliché) a beacon of hope. However, as all of us who've studied Modern History or read Ernest Hemingway know – the partisans are doomed to failure. But, winning and losing aren't the important things here – it's the struggle which is important.

The message here is simple: fuck you, you fascist bastards – we'll fight to the last drop of blood to preserve our freedom. And, it's a pretty admirable sentiment, and one which I'll certainly stand up and salute.
The Guernica Tree is presented in a 1.78:1 and is 16:9 enhanced. For a film from the early to mid 70s, the transfer quality is quite good – minimal grain or crackle.
Ditto, but a bit loud and distorted at times. As I've said before, it's not in English, so I'm not really feeling qualified to speak. But, it seemed good to me; crisp and clear.
Extra Features
Not much, disappointingly. Trailers for The Guernica Tree and the two other films in Arrabal's Surreal trilogy (of which this is the last part), Viva la Muerte and I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse. There's the French lobbycard gallery and a rather bizarre short with Arrabal walking up to people in the street (he's in America), asking random passers-by if they know who Arrabal is.
The Verdict
Probably one more for the arthouse crowd (what is with the Spanish fascination with dwarves equating with weirdness? I'm looking at you Santa Sangre), but a seriously good film nevertheless. Strong, powerful and heartfelt. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though it totally bummed me out. If names like Jodoroowsky and Bunuel mean anything to you and don't make you run screaming into the night, check it out.
Movie Score
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