Land Without Bread

Released:  1933

Cast:  Abel Jacquin (voice), Alexandre O’Neill (voice)

SUMMARY:  Around the town of La Alberca, in Spain, there is a very mountainous area referred to as Las Hurdes.  This “town” is actually made up of a number of small villages:  the whole population of the area at the time of filming was about 8,000.  The Las Hurdes region is notable for its extreme poverty and the “backward” nature of its inhabitants.  The people of the area survive mainly on potatoes and beans:  when a new teacher brings bread with him, he has to make the students eat it in front of him, because the parents do not know what it is (and will thus throw it away).  The region is extremely poor, with most of a family’s money coming from government subsidies for adopting orphaned children.  The men of the area go into the larger surrounding towns during harvest time, but frequently are unable to find work.  Starvation is common in the area, as is disease.  One town has only a tiny, dirty stream for a water source, and this stream is used for every imaginable purpose.  In addition, the area is rife with a particular disease-carrying mosquito:  they are so prevalent that virtually every adult carries the disease.  Another result of the poor diet and bad hygiene (along with incest) is a number of handicapped people (which the film refers to as “idiots”).  Their maladies are varied, but most are essentially shunned by the rest of the community.  As such, some of them have become almost feral, and are prone to attacking strangers.  The medicinal practices of the area are also archaic, and people are routinely killed by botched medical treatments.

MY TAKE:  I suppose that this is like a less charming version of The Jungle Book:  a group of people has been essentially cut off from the world, and has evolved (or not evolved) accordingly.  The kicker is that the area is not far from several major cities in Spain, including one with a well-known university.  It’s hard to imagine that in 1933, there were communities like this – not just poor, but so poor and isolated that they don’t know what bread or a plow is.  Nevertheless, most of the inhabitants seem to be at least content, if not happy:  it’s the narrator that uses all the words like filthy and miserable.  It is an interesting contrast, because anybody living in a modern society would agree with him; however, being as it is the norm for them, the residents of Las Hurdes do not seem all that miserable.  It’s a very thought-provoking film.

RATING:  Intriguing – short length makes it easy to watch.


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