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Land and Freedom

Rated R, 109 min. Directed by Ken Loach. Starring Ian Hart, Rosana Pastor, Iciar Bollain, Tom Gilroy, Marc Martinez, Frederic Pierrot.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 14, 1996

War film, history lesson, love story? Loach's new work is all of these and more, a sometimes-astonishing, sometimes-pedantic look at the Spanish Civil War of 1936, the first such film to deal with Franco and company since For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hart plays David, an unemployed, idealistic Brit who drops everything and rushes off to strike a blow for freedom alongside an international mix of incoming fighters from places such as Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, the United States, and, of course, Spain. With his Communist Party of England card in his pocket and romantic dreams of revolution in his head, the young man journeys to the hills of Spain to fight fascism and unite the country in socialism. What he finds there is something else entirely. While the Republican militia for which he finds himself fighting is a democratic group of dreamers like himself, political infighting and the treachery of Stalin's Russian troops -- who were supporting the revolution, up to a point -- lead him to believe that the whole thing is a sham. His dreams are crushed as he sees his comrades needlessly killed and the lines between the oppressors and the oppressed become hopelessly blurred. Loach does an admirable job bringing the reality of the revolution to a modern audience, but his insistence that all sides be fairly argued leads too often to long stretches of political speechifying. One moment the film is rushing headlong through an electrifying battle sequence, the next you're trapped in Marxist Theory 301. It doesn't work quite as well as perhaps Loach had hoped. Still, Hart is terrific as Loach's protagonist, and Pastor, as David's semi-romantic interest Blanca, is equally riveting. When the film is up and moving, Loach's shots are tight and eclectic; the Spanish countryside has never looked so invigorating, and simultaneously, so sorrowful. A mixed bag, Land and Freedom tries harder than necessary to catch a stormy glimpse of Spain's defining moment, and in doing so, blinks.
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