- The Rebranding of Francoism's Originary Violence in José Antonio Nieves Conde's Balarrasa
The originary violence of the Francoist state bore the mark of fascism - of the Falange, and of Italian and German assistance in the Civil War - but by 1950 geopolitical events had forced the regime to refashion its image to appeal to the West. Understandably reluctant to relinquish its capacity for the kind of violence needed to guarantee its preferred social order, the regime needed to legitimize its violence. I will argue that José Antonio Nieves Conde's 1950 film Balarrasa formulates a prescriptive allegory that endorses what today might be called a "rebranding" of the regime: the use of constituted structures - the most important of which, the Church, was already a pillar of the state - to legitimize the regime by transforming its image from military to church-oriented, and its doctrine from fascism to anti-communism, while retaining its capacity for violence.
In Francoist Spain the cinema had been established as a site for the negotiation of national identity by films like Raza (José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, 1942) and the historical epics produced by Cifesa in the late 1940s. But Balarrasa's engagement differs radically from its predecessors: where they displayed redemptive heroism in the face of past episodes of national decadence, here the decadence is relocated to the Francoist present, thus creating a space for the film to formulate its prescription. Produced by the expressly Catholic company ASPA, the film tells the story of Javier "Balarrasa" Mendoza (Fernando Fernán-Gómez), a Nationalist officer during the Civil War, who in a crisis of conscience decides to leave the military to become a priest. What is supposed [End Page 257] to be a brief visit home before taking his final vows turns into a successful civil cruzada to reform the corrupted members of his family. The family was a common metaphor for the nation in the cinema of the time, and here familial disintegration suggests societal decadence. Importantly, after having renounced his weapons to become a priest, Mendoza retains the capacity to employ violence, and in situations where religious moral persuasion alone fails to reform the corrupted, he resorts to threats or even real violence by proxy, only fully retiring to religious life when familial order is restored.
So while on its surface Balarrasa is in step with the paradigm shift away from militarism - a supposed transition from a policy of violent coercion intended to rid Spain of foreign contaminants to one of moral persuasion to keep Spaniards on a proper Catholic path - it formulates the clear but implicit message that when the state is faced with religion's inability to correct moral ills, a violent state of exception is necessary, the capacity for which must be retained by the regime. The prescription, in other words, is for a preservation of the regime's capacity for the originary - or constitutive - violence employed a decade earlier in the Civil War, and its legitimization through association with the church.
By 1950, after a decade of Francoist rule - and the defeat of its Axis allies several years before - serious cracks appeared in the façade of what was supposed to have been a post-Republican return to the imagined tradition of a prosperous Catholic Spain, isolated through the policy of autarky from the ills of modernity that had contaminated the nation during the 1930s. As Carolyn P. Boyd writes, this self-imposed isolation was intended to "reverse social and cultural modernization by extirpating the sources of contamination at home and preventing their further penetration from abroad" (96), but a more immediate effect was the extension of the disastrous economic conditions of the war years throughout the decade of the 1940s:
El constante incremento de los precios y el estancamiento de los salarios traen consigo, como inevitable consecuencia, un acusado descenso del nivel de vida de la población y activan un sórdido mercado negro. La miseria y la desnutrición alcanzan a elevadísimos porcentajes de la sociedad y el comercio ilegal favorece todo tipo de estafas y fraudes, desde las mermas en las cantidades a la adulteración de los productos.(Castro...