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Land And Freedom
cast: Hart, Rosana Pastor, Icair Bollain, and Tom Gilroy

director: Ken Loach

109 minutes (15) 1995
widescreen ratio 16:9
Artificial Eye DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Tom Matic
The DVD release of Ken Loach's rousing and emotionally charged historical drama is a case of a great film enhanced by a genuinely illuminating commentary by the film's historical adviser Andy Durgan and the director himself. Land And Freedom tells of a stalwart Communist Party member David Carr (Ian Hart), who goes to Spain to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. He falls in with the POUM (Trotskyite) militias and sees the Spanish revolution destroyed by the Stalinist-led 'Popular Front' government, forcing him to rethink his long-held loyalty to the Party. However these events from the 1930s are given contemporary resonance by the framing device of Carr's teenage granddaughter going through his effects after his death in his hometown of Liverpool. As the ambulance crew run up the stairwell of the block of flats where the ailing David Carr has collapsed, we see an anti-BNP poster on the wall, reminding us that in the here and now, far from going away, the Far Right is again on the march. Loach and Durgan's commentary also draw links to the antiwar movement in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The granddaughter finds newspaper cuttings, letters that provide the narrative voice and a red scarf full of Spanish soil whose metaphorical significance becomes clear later on, when the woman Carr is falling for, Blanca (Rosana Pastor), gives a speech about the centrality of the land to their struggle.

Land And Freedom is the story not just of the defeat of the Republicans by General Franco's fascists, but of the defeat of a radical social movement by Stalinism. The conflicts between the different factions are encapsulated in the figure of Carr, a card-carrying Communist Party man who confronts his own political ideology head-on. In one of his letters to his fianc�e Kitty, he asks her to reassure one of his Party comrades that he will join one of their outfits as soon as they get their act together, reasoning that they're all on the same side, all fighting fascism. But he's soon to discover that things are not that simple. Neither the Comintern nor anyone else has organised any kind of infrastructure to help volunteers like him get to the front. After hitch-hiking through France, he has to walk over the Pyrenees, and boarding a train, some POUM militants take him under their wing, one of them joking that his smell of his sore and sweaty feet could be used as a weapon against Franco! Despite all the good-natured sense of camaraderie, the POUM militia Carr joins is isolated and desperately short of weapons. Blanca's boyfriend is killed and Dave is himself wounded. He ends up in Barcelona during the Maydays uprising of 1937, participating in a Stalinist-led attack on the anarchist-held telephone exchange. During some verbal exchanges with the anarchists, he realises that one of them is English, in fact a Liverpudlian like himself. "Why aren't you over here?" he asks. "Why aren't you over here?" comes the rejoinder. He deserts his post, and rejoins his former POUM comrades, but only to see them rounded up by a Stalinist unit, the Popular Front government having proscribed them as traitors. This scene is made all the more poignant and shocking by the death of Blanca at the hands of the unit, which is led by an American international volunteer previously in that very POUM militia, who had earlier left in disgust at what he saw as their lack of discipline.

Blanca's death came as a shock to the cast as well, as the commentary points out that this plot outcome was not revealed even to Rosana Pastor before the scene was filmed. The making-of featurette Loach On Location goes into more detail about the improvisational methods the director used when making Land And Freedom, as well as conveying a real sense of what it's like filming intense street-fighting. The commentary, with its contributions by historical adviser Andy Durgan, is invaluable in putting key scenes in a proper historical perspective, and Ken Loach's remarks also throw light on the thinking behind certain aspects of the film. A key example is the decision to make Carr a na�ve Stalinist, rather than someone who might naturally support the anarchists or the POUM. Loach explains that he and screenwriter Jim Allen thought it was important that we see David Carr making this political journey. As a result we are left with a picture of people not with fixed ideologies, but whose ideas are moulded and changed by their struggles and the circumstances in which they find themselves.
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