December 14, 2009
Moroccan Romance, 1939
Filmed during the Spanish Civil War, Carlos Velo and Enrique Domínguez Rodiño's Moroccan Romance (Romancero marroquí) bears the imprint of Robert Flaherty's ethnographic documentaries in its distilled (if manipulated) images of a distant, exotic - and exoticized - culture. Part colonialist travelogue on aspects of life in contemporary Morocco (and implicitly, the benefits of imposed western culture on the native population in such areas as medicine and the local economy) and part recruitment propaganda extolling the virtues of a franquista revolution, the film reflects what author Marsha Kinder describes as the idiosyncrasies of Spanish documentary in its malleable fusion of real and constructed history. Composed of seemingly disparate segments - a panorama of Morrocan customs, a human interest story on a Moroccan farmer, Aalima, who volunteers to serve in Franco's army, a youth march in Spain - the film's fractured construction invariably reflects its complicated production history, specifically, Carlos Velo's precarious role as a leftist republican covertly working on a commissioned project that promotes a nationalist agenda. Forced to flee the protectorate before the editing of the film to avoid exposure (Velo would eventually live in exile in Mexico), Velo nevertheless asserts his unmistakable aesthetic in the spare compositions and textured landscapes that capture the quotidian, even as jingoistic sermons on colonialist unity, romanticized images of war, and a sobering epilogue depicting youth military exercises that trivialize warfare as a series of role-playing exercises undercut the film's essential, humanist tone.