- Baserritarra:Identity, Violence and the Other in Post-Franco Basque Cinema
The present article examines the way in which the baserritarra,1 one of the most iconic figures of the Basque imagery, has been represented in post-Franco Basque cinema. Through the analysis of three films—Tasio (1984), Vacas (1992) and Ander (2008)—this study illustrates the evolution of the baserritarra from a once ultra-traditional and monolithic bastion of Basqueness to a hybrid paradigm capable of integrating both traditional and modern elements. It is this paradigm that better represents the reality of current Basque society. The presence or absence of a threatening Other will be pivotal in this argument since, as Joseba Gabilondo points out, representations of Basqueness only function within the political order that gave rise to their creation and against which they position themselves (271). The characters in the films analyzed rebel against the presence of a menacing alternative order imposed by “external” forces by exercising their Basqueness in the most traditional sense. According to Jo Evans, this is a classic motif in Basque cinema in which: “Violent conflict with the ‘other’ dominates [the narrative] and the Basque screening of identity is haunted by the profoundly important (big) Others, of the Franco dictatorship, Finance and Terrorism” (“La Madre Muerta” 174). Certainly, it is possible to observe in Tasio, Vacas and Ander how the violent conflict with the Other generates an increasing tension that pushes the protagonists towards traditional behavioral patterns. The adoption of those [End Page 9] patterns causes the rejection of the alternatives presented by that Otherness in the first two films. However, the progression of the baserritarra from an outdated figure to a more modern one will only be accomplished when both the threatening Other and the alternative to customary paradigms of identity that it represents are removed from the equation. As Ander shows, only when the alternatives are presented from within the individual and not from without, will traditional identity appear more malleable and adaptable.
About the “Issue” of Basque Cinema
In an article that explores issues of identity in three Basque films, there is an implicit necessity to briefly address an issue that has been lingering over Basque film production since the final years of the 1970s: the nature and boundaries of what comprises Basque cinema itself. As Gabilondo indicates:
[Basque cinema] is characterized by an uncanny questioning of its own identity and existence which is not found in, for example, Basque literature and art. The question of whether Basque cinema has an identity or even exists is still dogged by controversy, sometimes bordering on violence.(264)
Certainly, as detailed below, the topic has been the subject of exploration for over three decades, and it is still a source of conflicting responses from both national and foreign cinema critics.
In 1976, the Primeras Jornadas del Cine Vasco that took place in Bilbao tried to establish a series of guidelines to define what should be understood as Basque cinema. As Ann Davies suggests, in these Jornadas: “the link between nation and national cinema was made quite overtly […] Basque cinema being understood as that cinema which supported the call to independence and which used the Basque language Euskara” (360).2 Basque cinema then would be one that used the resources available in the Region, was filmed in Euskara, the language of the Basques, and would help portray the Basque Country as an entity that distanced itself from the Spain of the Transición. These parameters set forth what Sojo Gil would define years later as “Basque National Cinema” (“Algunos apuntes” 64-66). This definition, however, quickly proved to be inaccurate if not unachievable. This was particularly due to the limitation imposed by the linguistic constraints of Euskara, which not only restricted the target audience of the films in their homeland, but also their economic and artistic impact in the rest of Spain. Thus, in the 1980s, critics reached a more pragmatic and realistic solution in order to describe the phenomenon: “la fórmula cine vasco/cine producido en Euskadi” (Roldán Larreta, “El cine de Euskadi” 82). This particular formula of equating Basque cinema to that filmed and produced in the...