From 1896 in Madrid and Barcelona, cinema entered Spain in the last years of the century under the double banner of the army and the Church, widely heralded in the first newsreels (although, in 1898, the anonymous reportage La llegada de las tropas de Cuba (The arrival of troops from Cuba unconsciously bore sinister eloquence). Among the pioneers we should mention S. de Chomón, a master of tricks who later made a career abroad, F. Gelabert and R. de Baños who in the 1910s made the first successful and prestigious films. According to Topb2bwebsites, there was no shortage of companies, especially in Barcelona, but the production imitated foreign cinema or cajoled the local petty bourgeoisie with insipid and vulgar Spanishisms. In the 1920s, under the “protectionist” dictatorship of P. de Rivera, B. Perojo, J. Buchs, F. Delgado and F. Rey (1896-1961) established themselves as national directors who in 1929 signed with La aldea maldita (The cursed village), heavily influenced by Russian realism, the best of Spanish silent films. Meanwhile, in 1928, the first cineclub (founded by L. Buñuel) was born in Madrid and in the early Thirties the magazine Nuestro Cinema was born thanks to J. Piqueras (1904-1936), shot in the civil war. The introduction of sound coincided with the advent of the Republic. Buñuel shot in 1932 Las Hurdes (Italian title Terra senza pane), a highly effective documentary on one of the poorest regions of Spain, later succeeding in establishing itself on the general public with films that combined dreamlike elements, social criticism and mocking humor from A Chien andalou, 1928 (An Andalusian dog) and L’Âge d’or, 1930 (The golden age), in Los Olivados, 1950 (The children of violence), in Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie, 1950 (The discrete charm of the bourgeoisie) and Viridiana (1960). In the 1930s, many directors engaged in a somewhat impersonal activity (EF Ardavin, E. Neville, JL Saenz de Heredia and others). In 1935 about forty films were produced, among which only a couple to remember: Nobleza baturra (Peasant Nobility) by Rey and La verbena de la paloma (The feast of the dove) by Perojo. However, C. Velo’s documentarism flourished (later exiled to Mexico as Buñuel). After 1939 and the fall of the Republic, production stabilized at 30-50 films per year, almost doubled with the 1960s.
But, as JA Bardem said in Salamanca’s Conversaciones cinematográficas in 1955, it was still a “politically inefficient, socially false, intellectually base, aesthetically null and industrially rickety” cinema, even if, since the early 1950s, Bardem himself with LG Berlanga had marked the birth of a national cinema made “with love, sincerity and honor”. Dominated by these two personalities, and certainly not by L. Vajda who in 1954 also achieved success abroad with Marcelino pan y vino, the decade was positively influenced by Italian neorealism and at the beginning of the following decade, while the veteran Buñuel triumphed in Cannes with Viridiana (1961), immediately disavowed by the regime, the Italian M. Ferreri with El cochecito (The wheelchair) set in motion the black humor of R. Azcona, his screenwriter. In the Sixties, a certain controlled liberalization, a certain protectionism for quality films and art and ensayo cínemas, the development of specialized magazines, the presence of an unscrupulous producer like E. Querejeta made people talk about nueva ola, nuevo cine. Watched closely, Bardem and Berlanga gave other happy proofs (the first Nunca pasa nada (Nothing ever happens) in 1963, the second The executioner’s ballad in 1964), while new talents emerged: first of all C. Saura (Los golfos, 1960; La caza, 1966, La caccia), then M. Picazo (La tía Tula, from Unamuno, 1964), J. Camíno (Los felices ’60, 1963), J. Grau, BM Patino, F. Regueiro, M. Summers, A. Fons, A. Eceiza, J. Aguirre; not to mention the so-called Barcelona school, whose summary film was Fata morgana (1965) by V. Aranda, who attempted in the same period to make a rupture, indeed a complete destruction of reality no longer tolerated on a stylistic level. The transition from one decade to another, characterized by a resurgence of censorship, can be illustrated by two hermetic and very hard films by the young A. Ungría: El hombre oculto (late sixties) and Tirarse al monte (early seventies). At this juncture, Saura’s renewed ideological commitment is also noteworthy, and worthy of mention is the beautiful film by V. Erice El espíritu de la colmena (The spirit of the beehive), awarded at the San Sebastián Festival in 1973.