SFIFF – Black Bread (Pa negre)

Black Bread is one of SFIFF’s more understated films, despite a few fairly grotesque moments. It’s an examination of the effects of politics and war on the Spanish people immediately following the Spanish Civil War. With it’s slight supernatural themes, it firmly reminds us of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (Sergi Lopez is even cast in a role in Black Bread very similar to the ruthless authority figure he played in Labyrinth). Black Bread stays much more firmly rooted in reality, however. The film is directed by Agustí Villaronga who adapted it from a very critically acclaimed novel by Emili Teixidor. The film focuses on a ten year old by the name of Andreu who is just old enough to begin understanding the complex world going on around him. And it is very complex.

At it’s very simplest, Black Bread begins as a ghost/murder mystery.  A cloaked figure murders a man and his son by leading their carriage off n cliff.  There’s a brutality in this beginning scene that is only scene once more throughout the duration of the film.  It’s a lovely reminder to see things as vividly and intensely as Andreu would.  Andreu’s father, Farriol, is accused of the murders, although it becomes clear that the only motive the police really have to make this accusation is Farriol’s history of protesting against the new government and promoting his liberal political views–you’ll remember the fascists won the war–Farriol’s family are republicans.  As Andreu attempts to exonerate his father, he finds much more in the world surrounds him than he wants to know.

The film is unashamedly created for mainstream audiences.  And it’s far too filled with commentary and symbolism, and lofty ideals.  But there are some things of genuine worth here.  Despite the rather stuffy appearance of a period film, Villaronga utilized some interesting techniques, including the moderate use of handcams to keep things feeling intimate and urgent.  His leading cast wields some genuinely lovely moments out of the unruly script.  As well as some genuinely disturbing ones.  Black Bread isn’t quite what I think the filmmakers hoped it would be.  But it’s enough.  It’s entertaining, and sometime intriguing.  Worth a rental at the very least.

★★★☆

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