Mañana el Mundo, Hoy España
Helen Graham describes photomontage propaganda as a very influential form of media during the Spanish Civil War, especially on the Republican side. The effectiveness of this style is on full display in this particular poster, which places a cut-out of an unsuspecting child as the target of a Hitler-directed air raid over France. A foreboding message, “[m]añana el mundo, hoy España,” is scrawled in blood-red letters over the Iberian Peninsula and France, as battered prisoners—men, women, and children—lay defeated under an Nazi document indicating profound interests in abating the “ progressively increasing power of the Marxists.” With just a cursory observation, the poster already offers a condemnation of Franco’s sanguinary and uncompromising militarism which sought to impose a repressive and violence-based hierarchical regime somewhat similar to, and definitely backed by, Hitler’s NSDAP and Mussolin’s PNF.
This poster, designed and printed by the CNT, is definitively pro-Republican, but the question still remains as to who the intended audience is. In making Spain its chromatical focus—by contrasting a light orange map of the country against a dark background—the poster recognizes Spain as the obvious geopolitical center of the conflict. However, only including Spain in the poster would have sufficed to communicate this message. The presence of France’s silhouette insinuates an international dimension to the messaging of the poster. Marx’s declarations of “workers of the world unite!” and “[proletarians] have a world to win,” remind us of the potent tradition of left internationalism that undoubtedly pervaded much of the Republic’s radical elements, so it is possible that this propaganda was an appeal to foreign radicals to demonstrate their solidarity with Spain’s left and volunteer to fight against the Nationalists. However, I find more compelling the idea that this poster aimed to convince foreign capitalist powers (namely France and Britain) to abandon the policy of non-intervention and to provide military support to the Republic, just as Mussolini and Hitler had done for the Nationalists. As Helen Graham elucidates, the French approached the question of military intervention on the behalf of the Republic with great trepidation, due to a desire to stave off diplomatic isolation from Britain, to obviate provocation of adjoining fascist states, and to avoid the alienation of domestic conservatives. The poster seeks to convince the French that these political considerations were insignificant in relation to potential fascist encroachment. The creators of the poster were determined to proselytize the French to the Republican cause by suggesting that if fascism took hold in Spain, it would facilitate the same process throughout the whole world—that soon, it would be French citizens, like the Spanish citizens shown in the poster, imprisoned and physically abused by fascists; French citizens ducking for cover from bombs dropped by planes ridden with fascist insignia.
The French people are represented by a solitary and guileless baby, defenseless to the impending Nazi onslaught—not only a scathing critique of French cowardice and naivety in its failure to confront fascism, but also an classic “think of the children” appeal. Furthermore, the child’s status as the primary target of the Nazi offensive intimates that a fascist take-over is not merely a conquest of land; it is the conquest of culture and people, and it would infect society at a critical root of cultural reproduction, the child, whose education and personal formation would unmistakably mold France’s tomorrow. This propaganda poster is incredibly prescient, as Hitler’s armies would come to occupy France in the form of the Vichy puppet government just a few years down the road.
The poster’s photomontage style adds an important dynamic to the piece: its components are eclectic and visually “out of place,” giving an impression of replaceability. Thus, France could just as easily be Britain; Hitler could just as easily be another fascist pig pumped out by the decaying rot of capitalist empire. This dimension complements the, “[m]añana el mundo” written in blood-soaked letters to make a veraciously terrifying image which faithfully depicts the harrowing terrors of El Moviemento’ s fascism.
The Clashing of Past and Present
An untitled 1937 photomontage piece by Kati Horna paints a ghastly scene which mirrors the most foundational conflicts of the Spanish Civil War: an ominous skeleton engulfed in darkness towers over a bed full of children, shimmering with the potential of a bright tomorrow; a new republic blossoming with novel and progressive visions of the future is threatened by the roots of imperialism, Catholic traditionalism, and violence unearthed by Franco’s rightist movement. The complexity of the struggle between these two competing visions of Spain—and, as a result of the powerful universality of the piece, the world—are elucidated through her specific choices in lighting and symbolism.
The image of the skeleton—an undead entity that should have been buried in the past—is pregnant with parallels to the unwavering traditionalist currents of Franco’s nationalism. Franco’s detour to Toledo, “the first Muslim-controlled city in the Peninsula to be conquered by Christian forces,” in the midst of his northward march to Madrid was an effort to recapture the spirit of La Reconquista, constituting a larger effort to reify the Nationalist ethos of a contaminated Spain in desperate need of purification (Graham 40). Franco believed in a return to the greatness of old Spain: he sought to restore the empire, which, after the heroism of Simón Bolívar and Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War, was now a shriveled husk of its past self. He was determined to crush the burgeoning ideas of liberalism, left-wing radicalism, and the new woman; to suppress ideals of regional sovereignty, enforcing Castilian hegemony; and to fortify the waning influence of Catholicism, which had reigned supreme in previous eras of Spanish history. These skeletons of a dissolving past converged in full force to spur the fascist violence that would wrack Spain during its civil war. The skeleton’s symbolism is multifaceted: the skeletal structure is the foundation of an organism, it is the core of its being. Therefore, Horna intimates, fascism is an logical, consequential component of the trajectory of Spanish history and culture; it cannot be extricated from the imperial national identity or written off as an aberration. Furthermore, the skeleton is a near-universal symbol for death, which Spandiards could all but ignore throughout the course of the bloody civil war.
The brightly-clothed children starkly contrast the sinister background, personifying the roseate potentialities of Spain’s future, now directly under threat from Carlist-Falangist traditionalism. Republican Spain—budding with hopes and dreams for the future—was experiencing a renaissance of political thought, artistic expression, and social freedom, as shown in the genuine proletarian movements in the streets of Barcelona, the introspective beauty of Federico Lorca’s finest works, and the rejection of Catholicism as the preserver of the social order. These forces, which to Republicans seemed as pure and auspicious as children, were now being subjected to a brutal and unforgiving Nationalist onslaught, which was intent on snuffing out progress and plunging Spain into the darkness of the past. Photomontage plays a critical role here: the skeleton, despite being grafted onto the background, fades into the darkness, becoming part of it. However, the group of children’s status as a clearly superimposed image conveys the new ideas of the Republic as completely outside of Spain’s dark past of conservative oppression, as something that did not arise from the background but instead seeks to transform it. Conversely, the separation of the backdrop and the image of the children shows how tenuous the Republic’s place is in the context of Spanish history, and how easily it could be eradicated by Nationalist forces. Similar to the CNT’s “Mañana el mundo, hoy España” propaganda poster, the designation of the children as the locus of the piece reminds the audience that El Movimiento was not only pursuing a total domination of land, but also of people and culture, and it would infect society at the core of its cultural reproduction: the child’s social, academic, and cultural development. A closer inspection of the children’s faces reveals that all but one child is aware of the presence of the skeleton, insinuating a degree of unpreparedness among the Republican side to defeat the fascist threat and comprehend its implications. From this observation arises a question: what made Kati Horna develop this view of Republican Spain? A greater understanding of Horna’s life experiences and political education is required to make a judgement on this question, but it is possible that like Helen Graham, Kati Horna saw fatal flaws in the Republican approach. She may have seen that the Republic was never able to successfully elaborate a strategic anticolonialism—which would have been propitious in combating or all together preventing Franco’s Africanistas northward march—and thus concluded that the Republic was never committed enough to total liberation to crush the Nationalist rebellion (Graham 34).
Horna’s photograph is a profoundly macabre tableau of the struggle—between past and future, old and new, hope and fear—that was the Spanish Civil War. She is not a neutral observer. Her utilization of the photomontage style and carefully chosen lighting and symbolism betray a lack of impartiality: “[p]ictures of hellish events seem more authentic when they don't have the look that comes from being ‘properly’ lighted and composed” (Sontag 27). This is not a condemnation, rather it is a testament to her vitality as an artist. Horna’s piece is undoubtedly charged with pro-Republican commentary, but the question remains as to what specific message she aims to convey. Sontag, paraphrasing Viriginia Wolff, writes: “the shock of such pictures cannot fail to unite people of good will” (6). Wolff’s insight into the power of photography in depicting times of crisis aids in uncovering Horna’s political intentions: she was compelled to galvanize Spaniards to fight for the Republican cause by delineating their future and their children’s future as contingent on the survival of the Republican dream. However, the political commentary is just a product of the viewer’s analysis of the piece. Republican sympathizers see darkness threatening to engulf the children as emblematic of encroaching fascism, but how would those with other political convictions react? Sontag declares:
To the militant, identity is everything. And all photographs wait to be explained or falsified by their captions [...] Alter the caption, and the children's deaths could be used and reused (10).
If a caption is absent, the viewer’s preconceived notions fill the void of information, and thus the “truth” of the image becomes so malleable that the same image can convey two opposite messages to two different people. To a Francoist, the ingenuous children in Horna’s piece might symbolize the imperiled purity of the formerly grand empire, with the skeleton representing the insurgent cultural and political transformations which should be taken and buried in the ground. Horna’s work thereby allows for a wide range of political opinions to be extracted from it, but, as Wolff reminds us, the [true] artist has one goal in mind: “ to unite people of good will” (Sontag 6).
Haunting and Childhood in a Fractured Spain
After the Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War in 1939, a decades-long campaign of political and social repression, characterized by mass incarceration, summary executions, and heavy-handed censorship, ensued. Beyond these overt forms of restriction, the regime strove to inculcate an ideology of chauvinistic Catholic purity in all of its citizens. This brutal suppression of all that outside of the Catholic, imperialist version of Spain led to deep wounds in the collective Spanish psyche; wounds that filmmakers Víctor Erice and Guillermo del Toro illuminate in their films The Spirit of the Beehive and The Devil’s Backbone, respectively. Both films, through the motif of haunting and focus on psychological development in childhood, seek to unearth the damage to Spanish society that has long remained unacknowledged.
Both films feature a supernatural entity used to construct the allegorical relationship between haunting and the collective psychological damage done by the war and the dictatorship. The Spirit of the Beehive’s monster takes the form of the monster from James Whale’s Frankenstein, which the child protagonist, Ana, watches and becomes obsessed with. As she watches the film, Ana is perplexed by the motivation behind the monster’s eventual murder: why did they kill him? Despite this tacit recognition of the monster’s innocence, Ana also struggles to fathom the monster’s reason for drowning a farmer's daughter after having enjoyed tossing flowers into a pond with her. Her presumption of the monster’s innocence, coupled with her failure to understand its motivations, is a reflection of Ana’s own disconnection from the reasons behind her hollowed-out life that we see throughout the film; she knows little about the regime’s campaign to reaffirm traditional familial structures, its deliberate neglect of rural communities and education, its efforts to transform each member of society into a devout husk, or its policy of execution of Republican ex-fighters in the years following the war. As Perriam writes, “ [t]he characters are immersed in unreality, or the absence of reality, obliged by the Civil War and its aftermath to absent themselves from reality and live through dead and empty hours” (70). Ana is subjected to this alienation: she knows only the arid land scattered with decaying stone structures, the deathly silence of her family home, and the disappearance of the man—presumably a Republican dissident—to whom she gave an apple. Ana experiences these almost as a dream—things happen and things are without reason. After Ana is reprimanded by her father for helping the Republican, she defies his authority and runs away, eventually collapsing from exhaustion and passing out. In her unconsciousness, Ana experiences a nightmare: as loons call and a piano line that seems to crawl with trepidation plays, Ana regards her reflection in a pond illuminated by columns of moonlight. The water is stirred, and through this turbulence her image is distorted into Frankenstein’s face. Through this scene, the haunting of Ana by the monster can be understood as a consequence of the suppression of dialogue about the brutal chokehold on society that the Franco regime had, and the resultant lack of a reasonable why to explain all the gross deformations in Spanish society. Frankenstein’s monster becomes the explanation that, as her sister Isabel says, “[Ana] can talk to whenever [she] want[s]”. But, this explanation, created from remains and endowed with the brain of a dead criminal, is doomed to reaffirm the very isolation and inherent violence in Spanish society that it arose from.
Del Toro’s supernatural entity contrasts greatly with Erice’s. Where Erice’s Frankenstein is a vehicle for the harsh critique of the silence the regime imposed, del Toro’s ghost—the spirit of an orphan named Santi who was murdered by Jacinto, who grew up in and now works in the orphanage—is a reminder that violence of the Civil War and Franco’s regime, even 23 years after Spain became a democracy, had yet to be meaningfully grappled with in the public consciousness. Santi’s open wound, which continues to ooze blood even as his pale, colorless skin makes his lifelessness obvious, is a reminder that the violence of the dictatorship continues to hurt Spain to this day; Santi, and Spain, were never given a chance to heal. In the film, we experience Santi through the eyes of Carlos, a new arrival to the orphanage. Thus, Carlos must learn about the dark past of the orphanage through what others are willing to disclose, and by his own investigation. Therefore, Carlos becomes an inheritor of the trauma of the other orphans (specifically Jaime, the sole witness to the murder), much like the post-dictatorship generations became inheritors of the trauma of those subjected to the repression of the regime. The permanence of this haunting, even for those inheriting the context, makes the subject of the haunting, Spanish society, “relive what has been silenced, allowing this to be intrinsically related with trauma, a psychical action that compulsively repeats events that have marked the subject’s unconscious” (Aljuria 1). This reliving can be seen not only in the pages of Jaime’s notebook, where he draws Santi’s corpse, but also in Carlos's interactions with Santi and the orphans’ collective knowledge of “el que suspira”. Santi’s murder, and the trauma from the war, seem impossible to come to terms with. In The Spirit of the Beehive, as Willem puts it, Erice uses “the sound of the wind to stress the isolation” (Perriam 63). It emphasizes the lack of other sounds in the desolate Spanish countryside, and the lack of conversation about the effects of the dictatorship on the collective consciousness. In The Devil’s Backbone, the wind serves a different purpose: it is Santi’s unanswered call for justice. Only when Carlos “declares, ‘I'm not going to run from you any more,’ and asks, ‘What do you want?’” does “the past [become] [...] a story Carlos understands and wants to redress, not the scary monster of a dark unknown” (Hardcastle 123). Only by confronting the embodiment of the violence of the past does Carlos learn how to attain justice and do right by those who died. Santi tells him, “Jacinto ... bring him to me”. Following this, Jacinto is drowned in the same pit as Santi, and no character sees Santi’s ghost again. The story of del Toro’s Santi therefore carries a clear message: Spain cannot move on from the past of the dictatorship without justice, without confronting and dissolving all the vestiges of the brutal period of repression.
Del Toro and Erice both show their stories through the point of view of children. This placement of the point of view has important implications in how the viewer experiences the depiction of the war. Firstly, the expressly political appearance is largely stripped away; we are left with the emotional and social imprint of the war. Secondly, our focus is more easily shifted to the process of development and individuation that transpires in childhood. The second point is of particular interest, especially with regard to Jacinto and Isabel. Jacinto is disparagingly called “un príncipe sin reino” by Carmen, a long-time administrator at the orphanage. In one scene, Jacinto inspects an old, blurry photograph of himself as a child that has the same message scrawled on the back. This scene harkens back to the opening lines of the film: “¿Que es un fantasma? . . . ¿un sentimiento suspendido en el tiempo, como una fotografía borrosa?” With this glimpse into Jacinto 's past, we can come to understand his development into a conceited, greedy, and violent actor. The specific phrase Carmen uses to describe Jacinto is evocative of Franco’s determination to restore a waning empire: just as Jacinto is a prince without a kingdom, Spain was seen by the Falangists as an empire without any foreign lands to dominate, destined to reconquistar. Moreover, as Hardcastle notes, “Jacinto's repressed rage and cruelty suggests a much more potent source of danger than the tragic Santi ever does,” further punctuating del Toro’s insistence for the Spanish people to confront the violence and political and social repression of the dictatorship—clashing with the consensus of El Pacto del Olvido (123).
In The Spirit the Beehive, Ana is generally a passive character, as the hollowness of the world around her silently pushes her deeper into her obsession with Frankenstein. However, Ana is not the only character to have been permanently marked by the war in her formative years—Isabel also appears to be profoundly disturbed by the broken Spain. In an excruciatingly long scene, we see Isabel play with a black cat while sitting in her bedroom. She pets and observes it, until she suddenly begins to choke the cat. The camera zooms into the cat’s face, which conveys increasing discomfort, its eyes starting to close. Isabel asks, “¿qué te pasa?” as if unaware that she is bringing the animal to the edge of death. Eventually, the cat lets out a screech and breaks free, causing Isabel’s finger to bleed. She proceeds to spread this blood on her lips, using her wounded finger as lipstick. In the next scene, Isabel fakes her own death to torment Ana. After Ana scrambles to find help that never comes, Isabel sneaks up behind her to frighten her. At the end of this ordeal, Isabel simply laughs and walks away from her traumatized sister. In the scene directly after that, Isabel repeatedly jumps over a fire despite warnings that she might get burned. Erice is careful to include a low-angle, zoomed-in shot to illustrate the proximity of the flames to Isabel's dress. These scenes stress Isabel's cavalier attitude towards violence, danger, gore, and death itself. The film takes place in 1940, and Isabel, being older than Ana, is old enough to remember the brutality of the civil war. Growing up during a war with so many towns decimated by bombs, soldiers summarily executed, nuns murdered, and innocent civilians victimized, is it not clear why Isabel fails to understand the value of a human life? How could she come to see life as anything other than expendable, death as anything other than inconsequential—especially when, as is demonstrated through the labored silence of the family’s quotidian life, no one will speak to her to teach her otherwise? By showing the imprint of the war on Isabel’s perception of death, Erice echoes del Toro’s emphasis on a Spain that must be healed with direct confrontation of its violent past.
Despite emerging in periods long after the end of the civil war, both Erice and del Toro’s work follow a well-established trend of using supernatural imagery and focusing on the dictatorship’s effect on children—motifs which can be traced to artwork produced during the war itself. This pattern is exemplified by Kati Horna’s 1937 untitled “skeleton” photograph, in which “an ominous skeleton engulfed in darkness towers over a bed full of children, shimmering with the potential of a bright tomorrow”. The durability of these motifs suggests a central commonality in many Spaniard’s interpretation of the trauma from the Civil War and the regime it established: the haunting of El Movimiento will continue to damage the children of Spain until they grapple with the macabre darkness of Spain’s chauvinistic, imperial past.
Ajuria, Enrique. “Permanent Hauntings: Spectral Fantasies and National Trauma in Guillermo Del Toro's El Espinazo Del Diablo [The Devil's Backbone].” Journal of Romance Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, doi:10.3167/jrs.2012.120105.
Del Toro, Guillermo. El Espinazo Del Diablo =: The Devil's Backbone. Culver City, Calif: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, 2004.
Erice, Víctor, and Jacel Desposito. The Spirit of the Beehive. S.l.: s.n., 1973.
Graham, H. (2005). The Spanish Civil War: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hardcastle, Anne E. “Ghosts of the Past and Present: Hauntology and the Spanish Civil War in Guillermo Del Toro's ‘The Devil's Backbone.’” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol. 15, no. 2 (58), 2005, pp. 119–131. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43308735. Accessed 28 May 2021.
Perriam, Chris. Burning Darkness: a Half Century of Spanish Cinema, by Joan Ramon Resina and Andrés Lema-Hincapié, State University of New York Press, 2008, pp. 61–81.
Sontag, S. (2003 ). Regarding the Pain of Others. Picador.
By Samuel Araura