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Black bread film

Tags: film andreu

Andreu, an 11-year-old country boy, witnesses a horrifying murder. When the authorities suspect his father, and his family becomes threatened by local politics, Andreu escapes into a fantasy world based on the supernatural folk tales of the surrounding hills and forests. Eventually Andreu realises he must leave his fantasy world to track down the real killer and betray his own roots to survive.

Rating:  NR
Genre:  Drama
Directed By:  Agustí Villaronga
Written By:  Agustí Villaronga
Runtime:  108 minutes
Studio:  Massa d'Or Produccions


We got this covered

Black Bread is one of SFIFF’s more understated films, despite a few fairly grotesque moments. It’s an examination of the effects of politics and war on the Spanish people immediately following the Spanish Civil War. With its slight supernatural themes, it firmly reminds us ofGuillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (Sergi Lopez is even cast here in a role very similar to the ruthless authority figure he played in Pan’s Labyrinth).

Black Bread stays much more firmly rooted in reality, however. The film is directed by Agustí Villaronga who adapted it from a very critically acclaimed novel by Emili Teixidor. The film focuses on a ten year old by the name of Andreu who is just old enough to begin understanding the complex world going on around him. And it is very complex.
At its very simplest, Black Bread begins as a ghost/murder mystery.  A cloaked figure murders a man and his son by leading their carriage off a cliff. There’s a brutality in this beginning scene that is only seen once more throughout the duration of the film.  It’s a lovely reminder to see things as vividly and intensely as Andreu would. Andreu’s father, Farriol, is accused of the murders, although it becomes clear that the only motive the police really have to make this accusation is Farriol’s history of protesting against the new government and promoting his liberal political views–you’ll remember the fascists won the war–Farriol’s family are republicans. As Andreu attempts to exonerate his father, he finds much more in the world surrounds him than he wants to know.
One complaint I had was that the film is unashamedly created for mainstream audiences. And it’s far too filled with commentary and symbolism, and lofty ideals. Still, there are some things of genuine worth here. Despite the rather stuffy appearance of a period film, Villaronga utilized some interesting techniques, including the moderate use of handcams to keep things feeling intimate and urgent.
His leading cast wields some genuinely lovely moments out of the unruly script. As well as some genuinely disturbing ones. Black Bread isn’t quite what I think the filmmakers hoped it would be, but it’s enough. It’s entertaining, sometimes intriguing and worth a rental at the very least.


A man is attacked in the Catalan woods, brutally murdered by a cloaked assailant; his son, in the back of their horse-drawn wagon, is driven over a cliff and left to die. Found by his friend Andreu (a terrific Francesc Colomer), the boy breathes out the name of a ghost in his final moments: Pitorliua.
It’s an incredibly dramatic opening to Agustí Villaronga’s 2010 award-winning adaptation of Emili Teixidor’s novel. Set in the years immediately following Franco’s crushing victory, Black Bread is not just another story, similar to Pan’s Labyrinth(2006), of the Spanish Civil War as seen through the eyes of an imaginative child. While history is important to the narrative, the director cleverly subverts the audience’s expectations, slowly revealing a much more nuanced and layered film, with a disturbing mystery at its core. It’s a gripping, richly textured work, and if the symbolism at times seems heavy-handed, that minor weakness is more than made up for by the twists that the plot takes.
As the film begins to unfold, the audience learns that Andreu’s father, Farriol (Roger Casamajor), and the murdered man were friends and fellow trade unionists, both on the losing side of the war. Was his death some sort of revenge, a score settling? Is Andreu’s father next? In the eyes of the police, the victors, Farriol must be guilty. His only hope is to flee over the mountains and into the relative safety of France, a route many men, lucky enough to escape the purge of the reds, have already taken. Andreu is sent away to live with his grandmother, who is a caretaker for a wealthy family headed by an overbearing matriarch, who will later hold the fates of Farriol and Andreu in her hands. Along with Andreu, his grandmother also shelters his family’s abandoned women and children, including the wild Nuria (Marina Comas), a cousin who lost a hand to a grenade. Although the adults pretend that her father also escaped to France, she knows the much more disturbing truth.
At night, Andreu and his cousins live in a shadowy world of superstitions and storytelling; there’s an air of menace in the dark and gloomy, claustrophobic farmhouse, perfectly captured by Antonio Riestra’s hand-held cinematography. The children, who are outcasts and misfits, paying the price for their parents’ socialism, see intrigue and adventure around every corner. And, in some ways, the children are right: conspiracies and cover-ups are everywhere. But the biggest mystery that Andreu has to solve is how the ghost of a man who is said to haunt the woods, cursed ever since the war, could be involved in the death of his young friend.
Complex questions about guilt and innocence aren’t neatly resolved; Farriol, who still professes devotion to his ideals, is not necessarily the victim he first appears to be when he’s persecuted for the murder by the fascist mayor (Sergi López), who once pursued Andreu’s mother (Nora Navas). And when the story spins in a completely unexpected direction, it’s not even clear that the vicious crime is directly related to the war at all. The truth is that a conflict of that horror and magnitude provides cover for a multitude of sins.
While the film isn’t a witch-hunt, it is unsparing in its criticism of the Church. The clergy, on the side of the fascists, sit in judgement on their parishioners, even controlling what they eat - allowing those unfortunates on the losing side only coarse, black bread as some kind of twisted punishment. It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that, in the end, a bitterly disillusioned Andreu chooses the path that he does.
Sarah Cronin


Nobody Knows Anybody

 The silent knowledge of unquiet graves necessarily produced a devastating schism between public and private memory in Spain’ –Helen Graham (2005: 137)

     Pa negre was the big winner at this year’s Goya awards, picking up nine Goyas (Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Actress (Navas), Best Supporting Actress (Marull), Best New Actor (Colomer), and Best New Actress (Comas)) and it became the first film in Catalan to win Best Film. Originally released in Spain in October 2010, its Goya triumph saw it re-released in cinemas whereupon it entered the 
box office top ten. It was not just the Spanish film industry that rewarded the film, as the end of year survey of forty national critics in Fotogramas saw it rated as the best Spanish film of the year, again the first time that a Catalan film had come top (February 2011).
     The film takes a child’s-eye view (Andreu –played by Colomer) of the post-Civil War goings-on in a small, isolated, rural village, surrounded by forest, in Catalonia. That the film takes the perspective of a child (Andreu is in every scene and where he is not directly part of the action the viewer is nonetheless aware of him as an observer of the world of adults: for example, he often either appears in the foreground -out of sight of his parents, or other relatives- or as a shadowy figure towards the back of the shot) recalls earlier Spanish films set in similar circumstances such as El espíritu de la colmena / Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, 1973), El espinazo del diablo / The Devil’s Backbone (del Toro, 2001), and El laberinto del fauno / Pan’s Labyrinth (del Toro, 2006). As with those films, the child protagonist comes from a family that was on the losing side of the Civil War. The film illustrates the gap between what children see and what they understand, and also explores Andreu’s growing realisation that there is a gap between what adultssay and what is true, and that his parents are not infallible. Another similarity with the earlier films is the use of ‘fantastic’ elements. Villaronga describes his film as ‘a drama with elements of the thriller and the fantastic. It starts like a crime film and then the fantastic part appears, but not like in El laberinto del fauno. Through the children we enter into the world of the imagination, of dreams’ (Vall 2010: 37 [my translation]).
      Pa negre is perhaps closer to El espíritu de la colmena than to either of del Toro’s films, at least insofar as Andreu’s initial interpretation of events is filtered through his knowledge of local myth and legend; Ana (Ana Torrent) interprets the appearance of the army deserter through her recent experience of watching Frankenstein in Erice’s film, and similarly in Pa negre Andreu attributes the murders that open the film to ‘Pitorliua’, a ghost that is said to haunt the surrounding forest. This is one of the things that makesPa negre something other than just another Civil War (or post-War film), because a key difference between Pa negre and the other films mentioned is that Villaronga’s film is not ostensibly about the Civil War or its aftermath. Rather it is a story of betrayals, ambiguous personal relationships, and infantile universes that contain both innocence and monstrosity, that could transpire in other times and places; very little is made of the period itself, and a lot of the power relations and petty jealousies and rivalries pre-date the War (for example, the rivalry between Andreu’s father (Casamajor) and the local mayor (López) over Andreu’s mother (Navas) has clearly been going on for a very long time). This is underlined after Andreu’s discovery of the bodies at the start of the film when one of the men in the bar makes a comment along the lines of ‘what goes around comes around’; unacknowledged events have been festering within the community and are now coming to the surface, and ‘Pitorliua’ is not quite what (or who) Andreu has been led to believe.
       Despite the arguable lack of emphasis on the period, the film is nonetheless rooted in a specific place from the very first sequence, one of the most brutal film openings I have seen for quite some time. I don’t want to spoil the plot for those who haven’t yet seen the film. I watched it knowing very little about it and I think that the film was all the more effective because of that, so I’m going to give as few details as possible. But the opening of the film (in which we see a father and son murdered, and Andreu's discovery of their bodies) and its use of landscape and location are the first indication of how closed and isolated this community is, and also of the otherworldliness that permeates the film. Central to this otherworldliness is the forest, which is revealed as a place of enchantment and refuge, but also of intense fear. Villaronga notes that there is an evolution to how the forest is presented in terms of colour (the main palette of the film consists of shades of green, bluish greys), and which arguably could be said to mirror Andreu’s fall from innocence into 'enlightenment'; the forest starts out illuminated in golden light, but by the end is grey and dark (Iglesias and Kovacsics 2010: 13).
      I may revisit the film on the blog in the future when more people will (hopefully) have seen it, and also when I have got into a better rhythm with my writing (this feels a bit clunky to me). In the meantime I will just say that having seen the film, the Goya triumph is completely understandable. The cast is excellent, and Colomer and Comas (who plays Andreu's cousin, Nuria) thoroughly deserve their ‘newcomer’ Goyas –given how much of the film rests on their performances, it would have been a disaster if they weren’t up to the task. Of the adult cast, I was already familiar with Marull, Fernández, and López, but had never seen Nora Navas before. I will certainly keep an eye out for her appearances in the future –every emotion that her character feels is etched upon her face in what is a heartbreaking performance (and it is largely due to her performance that the last line of the film is so devastating).



A gripping example of a Gothic political allegory.

SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL: Black Bread, a big prize winner at the Goya awards in 2010, has one of the best opening sequences of any film I’ve seen this year.

The setting is a forest. It’s daytime but the stark spiky trees cast a dark pall. A boy and a man make their way uneasily through this rough terrain in horse and carriage. A hooded figure emerges out of the trees and kills the man with an enormous rock, while the little boy watches, hidden in the canopy of the wagon, too scared to make a sound. A beat later the killer will take the dead man, the boy, the horse and carriage and send the lot over a cliff.

This episode has the feel of a nightmare, and not only because of the mysterious figure of the hooded killer. There’s a sense that the film is out to portray a world gone wrong: a world of brutality, victims and violence.

Based on the novel by Emili Teixidor, Black Bread is ambitious, dense and gripping. Set in 1944 in the countryside around Barcelona, the narrative takes place in a Spain that has only recently come out of a civil war, with the Fascists victors. For the politically suspect it’s a time to be running scared; a time for bitterness and maybe retribution.

Adapted and directed by Agusti Villaronga, Black Bread is part Gothic political allegory and part tragic tale of a boy who by the film’s moving and sad climax has arrived at the end of his childhood.

The movie’s hero is Andreu (Francesc Colomer), an 11-year-old who idolises his leftist father Farriol (Roger Casamajor), who quickly falls under the suspicion of the fascist town Mayor (Sergi lopez) for the murders seen in the film’s opening. As Farriol flees to hide out in France, Florencia (Nora Navas) Andreu’s mother sends him away to live with his Grandmother (Elisa Crehuet).

In his new home Andreu is awakened to sex and politics and the lies that adults must tell so they can learn to live themselves and their past. Andreu’s new pals include Nuria (Marina Comas), a sexually precocious wild young teen, who had a hand blown off by a grenade; and an older Boy (Lazaro Mur) who is dying of consumption and pretends to be a bird.

Black Bread is very much in the tradition of Gothic fiction; it’s a mystery story alright, but the murders that set the action in motion are part of a much larger, darker narrative that stretches way back in time. Andreu’s personal story is intertwined with not only his own family secrets but also that of his village, and its sinister past of persecution and political compromise.

Black Bread is full of fine moments; but Villaronga never quite tops his stunning set-piece opening. Still, it sets a mood and a tone of unease that never abates.

by Peter Galvin


Grim but gripping tale of a rural lad's first exposure to evil in Spain's post-Civil War years.
Reminiscent of “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Black Bread” is the grim but gripping tale of a rural lad’s first exposure to evil in Spain’s post-Civil War years. Agusti Villaronga’s most mainstream film retains his trademark subversive edge, quickly evolving from rites-of-passage yarn into a complex, challenging item that is both dark to its heart and breathlessly watchable. Fest exposure seems probable, and while pic is unlikely to cross over to mainstream auds, the offshore arthouse market should find “Bread” to its taste.
Set in 1944, the film opens with its most visually startling scene, its brutality setting the tone for what follows. A hooded man kills another man, blinds the victim’s horse and then pushes the man, together with his son, horse and carriage, over a ravine. The event is witnessed by 11-year-old Andreu (Francesc Colomer), who rushes home to his mother, Florencia (Nora Navas, who won the San Sebastian actress prize), and father, Farriol (Roger Casamajor).
The issue of whodunit quickly becomes secondary. The village mayor (Sergi Lopez, playing a more nuanced fascist than he did in “Pan’s Labyrinth”) suspects Farriol, who has the wrong political connections, is responsible. Farriol escapes to France, while Andreu is sent by Florencia to live with his grandmother (Elisa Crehuet), in a house full of women; the men are all either dead or exiled.
Here he meets his cousin, the feral Nuria (Marina Comas), bitter and cynical before her time, having lost her fingers to a grenade. He also befriends a consumptive boy (Lazaro Mur) who lives in the monastery, and who imagines he has angels’ wings, yielding some rather over-insistent bird symbolism.
Debt owed to Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” present in the source novel by Emili Teixidor, even gives Andreu an overweight, Miss Havisham-like benefactress named Mrs. Manubens (Merce Aranega). While the women do their best to cope, the war has caused the men to regress to their most basic instincts: The local schoolteacher (Eduard Fernandez, brilliantly eliciting both compassion and repulsion) is an alcoholic who is sleeping with Nuria. Farriol, despite his repeated speeches to Andreu about maintaining ideals, is an ambiguous figure at best. It all adds up to a harrowing portrait of a war and a regime that have taken a toll on victors and vanquished alike, as well as their children.
As a depiction of rural poverty, pic is impressive: The darkly lit, richly textured interiors seem to be an extension of the beautifully lensed natural landscape, with a palette that switches from natural brown tones during the day to harsh blue hues at night. But the surrounding forests also conjure a more magical darkness that, as with “Labyrinth,” evokes the world of myth.
Several scenes, including a dream sequence, are shot through with a raw, unsettling power. But what really distinguishes the film stylistically is the urgency of the often handheld lensing, more redolent of a gritty urban drama than of a rural period piece. The visual hyperactivity reflects the emotionally numbed characters’ lack of control over their own lives as they fight to stay a step ahead of the next unforeseen event, buffeted from tragedy to tragedy by forces beyond their control. Even the closest relationship in the film, between Andreu and Farriol, is always troubled.

Perfs are uniformly fine from a Catalan cast whose biggest names, including Laia Marull as Pauleta, the deranged wife of the man murdered in the first scene, are relegated to the smaller roles. Villaronga’s script keeps the plot moving relentlessly forward while still finding time to raise the novel’s troubling questions about the decency of the human spirit. These questions mostly center on Andreu, and Colomer carries the emotional weight superbly, especially in a wonderfully understated final moment.
by Jonathan Holland
Stodgy, starchy and not particularly nutritious, "Black Bread" is the latest in a very long line of films to examine the harmful effects of war and its aftermath upon innocent children.

SAN SEBASTIAN -- Stodgy, starchy and not particularly nutritious, Black Bread is the latest in a very long line of films to examine the harmful effects of war and its aftermath upon innocent children. Adapted from a well-regarded literary novel, the mainstream-oriented picture tries to cram too much incident and symbolism into its two-hour running-time. Nevertheless, the Spanish has a solid domestic box office prospects given the subject matter, the familiarity of the source material and the starry cast.

Notably positive reactions from local and national press after the movie's world premiere in competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival will boost its appeal within Spain, along with Nora Navas' Best Actress award for her performance as the youthful protagonist's put-upon mother. Festivals specializing in Iberian fare will want to check out this Catalan-language production (original title Pa Negre) set in the countryside near Barcelona in 1944.

Main focus is on bright Andreu (Francesc Colomer), aged around 10, whose family are implicated in the ongoing conflict between the government forces of General Franco, successful in the recently-concluded Spanish Civil War, and those who oppose or resist the victorious nationalists. In an atmosphere of tension and suspicion, the children of the area channel their fears into folk-tales of supernatural forces in the surrounding hills and forests.

This aspect of the story allows Villaronga (best known for co-directing 2003's Aro Tolbukhin: In the Mind of a Killer) to incorporate some gothic, supernatural touches that place Black Bread in the tradition of Victor Erice's enduringly seminal masterpiece Spirit of the Beehive (1973) and Guillermo Del Toro's global hit Pan's Labyrinth (2005). He even casts the latter movie's Sergi Lopez in a very similar role as a sneering Fascist bully-boy.

But such comparisons only serve to emphasize the shortcomings of Black Bread. (The intriguing title refers to the brown-flour food which peasants like Andreu's family subsist on.) After a startlingly violent and disturbing opening - involving simulated (but very realistic-looking) cruelty to a horse, the film gradually bogs down into an overcomplicated stew of secrets, lies, myths and melodramatic revelations.

Villaronga generally handles proceedings in a bland, functional manner. Hand-held camerawork is deployed to give proceedings a slightly arty touch. He does obtain fresh performances from his child actors, their realistic brattishness offsetting a general tendency towards tear-jerking sentimentality that's especially noticeable in the grim final reels.


“Black Bread” starts of with a scene of such stunning violence—without giving too much away, it involves a sledgehammer and a horse, among a slew of other very nasty things—that it casts a shadow over the rest of the movie. Set in post-Spanish Civil War Catalonia, the film creates an atmosphere where the potential for death and hostility to erupt exists around every corner, in every situation. From the outset you learn that no place is safe; not the family hearth, government offices, and certainly not the multitude of caves, woods, and fields where the 11-year-old Andreu (Francesc Colomer) grows up.
Andreu witnesses the final moments of his best friend, and the dying child gurgles the name Pitorliua, the name of a ghost said to haunt their village. His father, Farriol (Roger Casamajor), is accused of the murder, and must go into hiding. Since the boy’s mother, Florencia (Nora Navas), works ridiculous shifts in a sweatshop yarn factory, she sends Andreu to live with his grandmother, aunts, and a collection of cousins, including Nuria (Marina Comas), who had one hand blown off by a bomb. The two wounded children form close bond, and are forced into the grown-up world of secrets, lies, jealousies, rumors, politics, and redemption. Ultimately Andreu is forced to make arduous, soul-rending choices about his dreams, family, and loyalties, decisions that are difficult—at best—for adults, let alone a child trying to come to terms with the world.
 Andreu begins as a kind, wide-eyed innocent—sneaking bread to a consumptive, contagious inmate at a monastery, a young man who may or may not be an angel—and he believes the best in people, until little by little it is revealed to him that what his father tells him is true, that people are capable of extreme acts of evil. Andreu and his cousins still believe in magic and curses and hope and dreams, but when faced with the devastating press of reality, they can’t escape into fantasy for long, and are compelled to adapt and come to terms with the harsh world they inhabit. Nuria serves as a guide for Andreu through these treacherous waters. Most of the idealism she had disappeared with her hand, and what remnants lingered after that vanished when she discovered her father’s body hanging from the rafters, a suicide. She is pragmatic, and uses what she has to get through and better her situation—doling out sexual favors for benefits. She’ll show you hers, for a price. It speaks well of their talent that two such young actors can carry parts with this much depth and weight, roles that would crush most adult actors into flattened, mushy little pancakes. Colomer and Comas both deliver subtle, nuanced, and at times heartbreaking performances.
There are definitely supernatural elements at play in “Black Bread”, enough to earn it comparisons to other Spanish-language films like “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Laby

This post first appeared on Emili Teixidor, please read the originial post: here

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