On April 27, 1937, in the midst of a grueling and increasingly brutal Spanish Civil War, the ancient Basque town of Guernica was subjected to an extended duration bombardment campaign by German forces in an unrelenting aerial campaign designed to demoralize the collective psyche of the Basque nation and to also show camaraderie (and military alliance) with the nationalists under Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Composed of a series of fractured, compartmentalized images that traces the evolution of the paintings and sculptures of cubist artist Pablo Picasso from 1906 to 1937 (leading to his masterwork Guernica) set against an evocative narrative ode written by French lyrical poet Paul Éluard and recited in an off-screen performance reading by Jacques Pruvost and María Casarès, Guernica is a thoughtful and passionate meditation on barbarism, warfare, and human resilience. Alain Resnais incorporates ingenious, rapid cut editing strategies and fragmented, subset images that not only visually integrate the principles of cubism in cinematic form, but moreover, reinforce the film’s overarching, thematic structure of multifacetedness that subtly – but inescapably – reflect on Spain’s (then) continued struggle under fascism at the end of World War II: the superimposition of character portraits against the static image of a post-bombing Guernica (note the use of cross-fade that Resnais subsequently incorporates in the superimposed images of Diego and Marianne in La Guerre est finie); the focused, directed lighting and partial occlusion of images that intimately underscore the resulting psychological toll of the inhumane destruction; the platen overlay of portraits that are subjected to a (simulated) riddling of bullets in order to evoke the image of rampant, arbitrary gun-shed, violence, and chaos. In the end, it is this dimensionally complex and multifaceted depiction of war’s long-reaching and ineludible toll that is reflected in the film’s bittersweet and melancholic human poem, not to serve as an elegiac commemoration of a senseless tragedy, but as a solemn prayer for the deliverance of a persecuted, suffering people.
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