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  • Confessional Cinema: Religion, Film, and Modernity in Spain's Development Years, 1960–1975 by Jorge Pérez
  • Marina Bettaglio (bio)
Jorge Pérez. Confessional Cinema: Religion, Film, and Modernity in Spain's Development Years, 1960–1975. University of Toronto Press. xi, 260. $72.00

Focusing on the last fifteen years of Francisco Franco's dictatorship, Jorge Pérez's exploration of the influence of religious beliefs and religious practices on the movies of the so-called development period contributes to the growing field of cultural and religious studies of Spanish cinematography. Combining a theoretical analysis of well-known and lesser-known movies, this groundbreaking book challenges commonly shared notions about the dwindling role of religiosity during the modernization of Franco's regime. Starting with a clearly defined thesis statement, the book proceeds to consider how religion – formerly, a pillar of National Catholicism – continued to play an important discursive role during the technocratic phase of the regime. Pérez's praiseworthy study challenges the notion that the so-called "desarrollismo" was predicated on secularism.

Divided into four chapters and prefaced by a historically informed and theoretically framed introduction, Confessional Cinema explores a vast body of cinematic texts in order to show the persistent significance of religion, understood in the text as a "sociopolitical force and cultural determinant in the Spanish public sphere." The term "confessional" in the title refers neither to the sacrament of confession nor, in the Foucauldian sense, to a series of disciplinary practices aimed at eliciting intimate accounts of personal shortcomings but, rather, to the overall religious ideology of the Spanish state, whose official religion was Roman Catholicism. As Pérez points out in his introduction, the book's focus encompasses "the impact of religion on the public sphere" and especially "films with narratives that address issues pertaining to religious communities (convents, monasteries, religious missions, and so on) and/or feature religious characters (clergy, saints, and biblical characters)."

Chapter one, "Lighting Sainthood in the Time of Technocracy," refutes the idea that by the 1960s the hagiographic genre had died out. Often overlooked by critics, this kind of film is examined in great detail to reveal how the depiction of saints' lives reflected a change in the regime's political discourse. Examining the use of specific cinematographic techniques brings to light the tensions of a time characterized by "the transition from political theology to the paradigm of economic theology in the regime's political imagination." Paying particular attention to the visual style and the sound devices employed by different directors in chronicling saints' lives, Pérez underscores issues of national identity as well as race and gender. Particularly interesting is the study of corporeal images in the depiction of female sainthood. Iconic figures such as Spain's patron saint, Teresa of Avila, and Latin America's first saint, Rose of Lima, are accorded special importance in this regard, for films about them utilize their angelical aspects for racial and nationalistic purposes, often equating the women's "virtue and goodness" with their "whiteness." [End Page 162]

Chapter two, "Praying for Development in Post-Vatican II Comedies," focuses on a widely popular genre often deemed unworthy of extensive critical attention because of its mixture of folkloric elements with themes of Italian comedy and Hollywood movies. At Pérez's hands, the genre receives the serious scrutiny it deserves. In this chapter, key films are studied for the ways they illustrate the interconnection of consumerism with Spanish religiosity. In-depth stylistic analysis focuses on "the use of the zoom lenses, framing devices, synergical crosscutting, and the iconography" to reiterate the films' message that technological innovation was compatible with Catholic values, that a certain degree of progress, as conventionally understood, was not incommensurate with Spain's cultural idiosyncrasies.

Chapter three, "Gender and Modernization in Nun Films," underscores the presence of female religious figures in a genre aiming to repackage Catholicism at a time of increasing social change, when greater urbanization and timid professionalization of women could potentially threaten traditional gender roles. Finally, Chapter four, "Narrative of Suspicion: Religion in the Nuevo Cine Español," examines the tensions that emerge in dealing with an oppressive authoritarian regime, especially with regard to religious...


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pp. 162-163
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