Cinematographic Adaptations of Two Novels by Camilo José Cela
Deveny, Thomas, Literature/Film Quarterly
Spanish cinema in recent years has turned more and more to contemporary literary classics as the source for films, and in 1975 and 1982, two novels by Camilo José, one of Spain's leading novelists of this century, appeared in screen adaptations. Both novels originally appeared decades ago: The Family of Pascual Duarte (La familia de Pascual Duarte) was Cela's first novel, published in 1942; The Hive (La colmena) appeared in print in 1952. Director Ricardo Franco's adaptation of the former, Pascual Duarte, won wide acclaim, as did Mario Camus' version of The Hive.1
Franco does away with the Cervantine framing of the novelistic narrative, concentrating on the main events of the story, while at the same time fleshing out some important minor events.2 In lieu of the novelistic frame whereby in 1939 a transcriber finds the memoirs of the executed Pascual, Franco subordinates the narrative order to the protagonist's arrest for homicide in 1937; a series of flashbacks alternate the narrative between the past-there is one of Pascual as a youth, with the rest as a young man in the 1920s and 30s-and the present of his incarceration, and finally, execution. The first flashback commences with a bit of narrative not contained in the novel: young Pascual reads from the Old Testament about Abraham. The choice of text is significant; the script to the film indicates that it shows "the concept of promised land and of homeland . . . and the element of violence, even family violence."3 Indeed, the concept of land becomes one of the fundamental themes of the film because of the socio-political element with which Franco imbues his cinematographic text. This begins in the scene in which Pascual's father, Esteban, reads the newspaper, and close-ups show headlines that refer to the executions of those involved in the social turmoil of the so-called "Tragic Week" of July, 1909. The most important change regarding this theme is the fleshing out of the character of Don Jesús, the wealthy landlord. In the novel, this character never really appears, although there are four important references to him: 1). Pascual dedicates his memoirs to Don Jesús, whom he killed, 2) the opening description of the town includes a detailed account of his house which connotes great affluence, 3) the priest considers Don Jesús a model that Pascual should imitate during the religious ceremony of his wedding, and 4) the transcriber's note at the end of the narration states that Pascual was guilty of the landlord's homicide, but the transcriber ignores the details of the case. In the film, Don Jesús takes on much more importance. He appears at the window of his house to tell the laborers that there is no work for them, and that they should go away. Two other brief scenes show the landlord's influence and importance in the community: after Don Jesús deposits his ballot in the transparent urn during the election scene, a low angle shot captures him pronouncing that all should vote, since it is their obligation. In the next scene, Pascual's wedding to Lola, Don Jesús arrives on horseback and dismounts for a quick drink of wine to everyone's applause, but he refuses to sit with the other guests. He gives Pascual some money, with the wish, "I hope that everything goes well for you," and then leaves. Both scenes connote his power, wealth, and a certain condescending attitude toward the lower class of which Pascual is certainly a member. Again, a juxtaposition of scenes is not fortuitous, and the next one finds Pascual at night listening to a radio broadcast of the declaration of the Republic, an event which occured on April 13, 1931. This represents a fundamental chronological departure from the novelistic narrative, since he commits the matricide which is at the end of the novel, on February 12, 1922. Franco's intention is to relate the theme of social injustice to the Republic and the outbreak of the Spanish civil war, and a deep shot from the interior of a train shows graffiti of a political nature which sums up the social themes: "Land and Liberty."
In the film, Pascual kills Don Jesús with his shotgun, the same weapon that he uses to kill his dog, his sister's boyfriend and his mother; in the novel, on the other hand, Pascual uses his hands and knife to kill the latter two in scenes of such tremendous violence that critics coined the term termendismo to describe the novel. Of course, the graphic nature of the visual images in the film heighten the sense of violence, not only in the brutal shotgun deaths, but also in the brutal knifing of his mare-to which Spanish audience reacted strongly-and the final shot of his garroting. The repeated use of the shotgun adds a certain emotional distancing to the coldblooded violence perpetrated by Pascual, and also further equates him with the armed struggle of the fratricidal conflict that was to follow.4
Just as Franco's film emphasizes the social injustice and turmoil leading up to the Spanish civil war, Camus' The Hive deals with the aftermath of the conflict. The action of the movie centers around the "La Delicia" café in 1943, and amidst the gatherings of the intelectuals who frequent the establishment, it portrays the squalor and misery of the period. The title metaphorically refers to Cela' s depiction of what he calls a "a slice of life" of the urban environment of the capital. The novel virtually lacks protagonists; of its almost three-hundred characters, forty-eight can be considered principal.5 The screen writers reduced the number of principal roles to around twenty-three; Camus filled the cast with stars of the Spanish screen, and even included a cameo appearance by the novelist. The original text lends itself nicely to the screen, and McPheeters notes the cinematic style of novel: "the cutting up of the action and splicing in a non-chronological sequence produces a cinematic effect" (86) and in the café "the author takes us from one person or couple to another without transitional remarks, with the apparent objectivity of the camera lense, and later with the same technique focuses on them at home, in a restaurant, in a brothel, or on the street" (88).
Although IHe states that money and sex are the two main themes of The Hive (139), the film also shows the dynamics of a society racked by a victor/vanquished mentality. Doña Rosa, owner of the café, shows her ire with employees by shouting the epithets "animal" and "red," refering to the communist and socialist Republicans defeated by Franco's Nationalists. Blackmarketeers like Don Leonardo defend themselves against accusations by showing a medal from the war, which gives him a certain amount of moral authority; women ask friends who pertain to the "right" political side to obtain favors for them in a scene filmed with shifts in camera angle and point of view that udnerscore the division of the have's and the have-not's. The Spain of the poet Martin Marco is mat of soup-lines, police interrogations, and ideological capitulation to the political system in the form of articles in the government press on the past glories of Spain.
Despite the misery and squalor portrayed in The Hive, both the novel and the film contain a good deal of humor.6 The humor often occurs in different aspects of the two narratives, however; thus, although the film narrative does not adhere to the letter of the original, it does maintain the spirit, and is an example of the creativity that Bazin considers necessary for a successful transition from page to screen (55-44). In the film, we see touches of humor when deceptions are unmasked or characters are caught in various pecadillos. Ricardo, an intellectual at the café, "unmasks" Doña Rosa when he discovers that the marble table tops are really inverted tombstones, and the entire establishment becomes an uproar as everyone inverts their table (in the novel, in contrast, this scene lacks comic intensity, since the fact that the table-tops are tombstones is merely "told" by the narrator). In order to have sexual relations, Ventura convinces his girl-friend Julita to visit him at a "safe" boarding houses and give the password "Napoleon Bonaparte." She timidly enters the building but mistakenly calls at the wrong door, and they bluntly inform her, "the house of ill-repute is on the next floor up." This sequence also ends with a humorous note as the shirt that Ventura wrapped around the lightbulb that hangs from the ceiling so as to create a more romantic atmosphere bursts into flames and falls upon the couple.
The film ends with a voice-over of a quote from the novel, which gives the adaptation a distinctively literary flavor.' Nevertheless, it is important to note that the quote comes from the end of Chapter Six of the novel, and that therefore the cinematographic adaptation does not include the narrative information of the Finale. This ending deals with the character who is first among equals, Martin Marco. Wanted by the police because his papers are not in order, the poet ingenuously goes to visit his mother's grave, and with great irony, reads in the paper the news of ration orders for the villages of Madrid's Outer Belt. Exclusion of this episode unfortunately dilutes the political implications of the narrative and the tragic dimensions of this character.
Of course, the question of what Dudley Andrew (101) calls the fidelity of transform mation is a complex one, not only due to basic differences in the signifying systems of the novel and cinema, but also due to conscious aethetic and socio-political changes on the part of directors. Thus, for example, Franco admits that he intended his film version of The Family of Pascual Duarte to have a much broader political discourse than the novel (Balgué 13). Because of the many transformations in the film version, critic Jorge Urrutia states that it was inspired by the novel but is not an adaptation of it (70). Both films represent a trend in contemporary Spanish cinema to deal with Spanish civil war.8 They also represent a trend to make quality films from Spain's best contemporary novéis, a trend which should provide more superb films in years to come.
1 Franco's Pascual Duarte received accolates at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976 when José Luis Gómez won Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Pascual. Camus' 7"Ae Hive was a smashing success with Spanish audiences, and it was the top-grossing national film during the year that it was released. It also met with critical acclaim both at home and aboard, winning the prestigious Golden Bear Award at the 1983 Berlin Film Festival.
2 Franco, in his "Breves notas sobre un proceso de trabajo cinematográfico," enumerates twelve basic narrative elements that served as a basis for the script (Martínez Lázaro 102).
Martínez Lázaro 35. This and all subsequent translations from the Spanish are my own unless otherwise noted.
4 The murder of the mare in the novel is justified because the animal threw Lola and caused her to abort her child. The fact that this element of causality is eliminated from the film makes the killing of the animal even more cold-blooded. Hernández Les points out that the absence of motivation which "explains" Pascual's violence is one of the reasons that caused Spanish audiences to react negatively (29). Rentero, however, feels that the tenuous relationship between the scene of Pascual's wife, Lola, in bed, and the killing of the mare provides a positive quality of surprise to the film: "el espectador se sinte desbordado ante las imágenes que se le presentan" (38).
5 In the "Nota a la primera edición," the editor states that José Manuel Caballero Bonald counted 296 imaginary characters (10). Eugenio de Nora makes the latter calculation (H, 121). In the Spanish editions of the text, the novelist includes an index ("Censo") of characters so that the reader can keep better track of them all.
6 McPheeters goes so far as to state, "the narrative is lightened by amusing flashes which run the gamut of farce, jest, irony, and wit" (99).
7 'The morning unfolds slowly; it creeps like a catepillar over the hearts of the men and women in the city; it beats, almost caressingly, against the newly wakened eyes, eyes which never once discover new horizons, new landscapes, new settings. And yet, this morning, this eternally repeated morning, has its little game changing the face of the city, of that tomb, that greased pole, that hive . . . (242-43).
For a brief overview of film adaptations of novels dealing with the Spanish civil war, see Deveny. The author is also finishing a monograph on contemporary Spanish cinema and the civil war.
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Balagué. Carlos. "Entrevista con Richardo Franco." Dirigido por 37 (Oct. 1976), 12-15.
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Cela, Camilo José. La colmena. 7th ed. Barcelona: Noguer, 1966.
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Cela, Camilo José. La familia de Pascual Duarte. 3rd ed. Buenos Aires: Espasa-Calpe, 1969.
Cela, Camilo José. The Family of Pascual Duarte. Trans. Anthony Kerigan. Boston: Little, Brown, 1964.
Deveny, Thomas. "From Page to Screen: Contemporary Spanish Narratives of the Civil War." The Spanish Civil War in Literature. Studies in Comparative Literature at Texas Tech University. Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University, in press.
Hernández, Les, Juan. "Pascual Duarte." Cinema 2002 16 (June 1976) 29-30.
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Martinez, Lázaro, Emilio, Elias Querejeta and Ricardo Franco. Pascual Duarte. Madrid: Elias Querejeta Ediciones, 1976
McPheeters, D. W. Camilo José Cela. New York: Twayne, 1969.
Nora, Eugenio de. La novela española contemporánea, 1927-1960. Madrid: Gredos, 1962.
Rentero, Juan Carlos. "Pascual Duarte." Dirigido por 33 (May 1976) 37-38.
UUman , Joan Connelly . The Tragic Week. A Study ofAnticlericalism in Spain 1875-1912. Cambridge, Mass . : Harvard University Press, 1968.
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Publication information: Article title: Cinematographic Adaptations of Two Novels by Camilo José Cela. Contributors: Deveny, Thomas - Author. Journal title: Literature/Film Quarterly. Volume: 16. Issue: 4 Publication date: October 1, 1988. Page number: 276+. © Salisbury University 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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