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Films adapted from books are common throughout the history of cinema, and Spanish cinema is no exception. What is consistent in many Spanish book-to-movie adaptations is that, regardless of the cultural origins of the book, the filmmakers are able to insert touches of Spanish heritage and the quirks of Spanish society. This list presents 10 Spanish films that entertain while embodying the unique Spanish identity.
Butterfly Tongues (La Lengua de las Mariposas) was based on three of Manuel Rivas’ short stories, sourced from the Que Me Quieres, Amor? collection. It tells the tale of Moncho, a boy who is just starting his first day of school in 1936. He becomes friends with his instructor, Don Gregorio, who teaches him many life lessons. Their days of playing music and catching butterflies are disrupted when the fascists, led by Francisco Franco, rise to power in Spain. The whole town is on edge as neighbors are carried off by the fascists for opposing Franco’s regime. Moncho loses some of his childlike innocence during this political turning point in Spanish history.
The Sleeping Voice (La Voz Dormida) was based on the novel of the same name by Dulce Chacón. It follows two sisters in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Hortensia actively rebelled against Franco’s regime and is in a women’s prison in Madrid. Her sister, Pepita, is drawn into Hortensia’s politically charged world when she acts as a go-between for Hortensia and her husband, a rebel in hiding. Pepita’s life becomes even more complicated when she, in turn, falls in love with another rebel in hiding. As Pepita delves into their secret world, she becomes responsible for aiding and protecting them in the fight against Franco.
The South (El Sur) was based on the novel of the same name by Adelaida Garcia Morales. Interestingly, the film was released before the book – Erice knew about the story and adapted it into a film while Garcia Morales finished the book. The South tells the story of Estrella, a girl growing up in northern Spain who is fascinated by her father. She believes the key to understanding the mysterious man lies in the south of Spain, where he grew up. As she gets older, Estrella begins to discover why her father has been so secretive – he has been having an affair.
Cell 211 (Celda 211) is based on the sole novel by journalist Francisco Perez Gandul. It is a fast-paced thriller that follows Juan, a newly-hired prison guard who comes to the prison for orientation. While touring the facility, he passes out. When Juan wakes up, he is laying in an empty cell in the middle of a prison riot. He must trick the inmates into believing that he is a newly admitted prisoner and win the trust of Malamadre, the riot’s ringleader. Juan’s mission is complicated when his wife comes to the prison looking for him. Danger is at every turn as Juan plays both sides of the prison system.
One Word From You (Una Palabra Tuya) was based on the novel of the same name by Elvira Lindo. It tells the story of Rosario and Milagros, two former classmates who run into each other years after high school. Perhaps it is their mutually difficult lives that sparks an immediate friendship, as Milagros and Rosario begin hanging out and get jobs as street cleaners together. Rosario is also caring for her mother, who has Alzheimer’s, and beginning a relationship with a man she meets at work. Lonely Milagros is overjoyed at the thought of motherhood when the women find an abandoned baby while working. However, this incident will change the women’s relationship forever.
Tristana, a novel by Benito Perez Galdos, was adapted into a film by surrealist filmmaker, Luis Buñuel. The film is set in Spain in the 1930s and tells the story of Tristana, a young, orphaned woman who is under the care of Don Lope. Don Lope attempts to seduce the much younger Tristana, who thwarts his advances by running off with another man. Tristana becomes ill however, and returns to Don Lope’s care. Initially excited by her return, Tristana is not the same woman he raised and their new relationship turns out much differently than he imagined.
Snow White (Blancanieves) is a silent film based on the Brothers Grimm story. This gorgeous black and white film is not a typical retelling of the fairytale, however. Carmen is saved by a group of bullfighting dwarves after she wakes up with amnesia, the result of a botched murder plot by her evil stepmother, Encarna. Carmen joins the performing group, who call her Blancanieves, and becomes a bullfighter as well. As she rises to fame, however, her safety will be in danger if Encarna recognizes her.
La Celestina is based on the fifteenth-century novel The Tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea by Fernando de Rojas. Calisto, a nobleman, falls in love with Melibea, the daughter of a rich merchant. When his servant suggests he seeks a sorceress to help with the romance, Calisto goes to Celestina, a witchy woman who runs a brothel. Celestina convinces Melibea of Calisto’s affections and arranges a secret meeting for the two. When Celestina then tries to cheat Calisto’s servants, a series of events is set off that ends this tragicomedy in a tragedy.
Carmen was based on the novel of the same name by Prosper Mérimée. It begins with French writer, Mérimée, who, while traveling through Andalusia, befriends a criminal, José. José, a former army sergeant, begins to tell Mérimée the story of Carmen, the femme fatale who he is left in charge of after she starts a fight in the tobacco factory where she works. Carmen convinces José to release her in return for a passionate night spent with her. José falls head over heels for Carmen, which leads him to kill a man out of jealousy. Now a criminal, José falls deeper into Carmen’s world of sin, and his love for the ruthless woman will be his undoing.
Saura’s version of Carmen is a story within a story. A group of dancers are rehearsing a flamenco version of Prosper Mérimée’s story. Antonio, the choreographer of the dance troupe, falls for the star of the show, Carmen. Carmen, much like the woman she is representing, is feisty and seductive. Antonio is upset when Carmen shows interest in a different dancer. As the movie progresses the dancers’ lives seem to mirror the drama of Mérimée’s Carmen and José. The film also features impressive flamenco dance scenes and a performance by flamenco legend Paco de Lucia.