Set in the barren wasteland of 1946 Southern Spain, Benito Zambrano’s Intemperie (Out in the Open) depicts the barbarity, brutality and destitution of early Francoism; the post-War period known as ‘los años de hambre’ (‘years of hunger’) due to the devastating famine and political repression that literally and symbolically starved a country still wounded by a bloody Civil War (1936-1939). In the film, hunger functions as a metonym to signify desolation and desperation, as the act of sourcing, preparing and consuming food indicates the complex power dynamics at play in a society where the rural poor are at the mercy of corrupt landowners.
Our young protagonist – known only as ‘el niño’ (‘the boy’) – escapes life under an abusive foreman, embarking on a treacherous journey through the arid desert in the hope of finding fortune in the city. Pursued by local henchmen, ‘el niño’ fortuitously encounters the enigmatic figure of ‘el Moro’ (‘the Moor’), a shepherd who leads an isolated existence in self-imposed exile, emotionally and physically scarred from his experiences in the Moroccan Wars (1911-1927); the brutal conflict that hastened Francisco Franco’s ascent within the Spanish ranks.
Despite the omnipresence of violence, conflict and political divides, direct commentary on the Civil War is absent in the film: when pressed by ‘el niño’, the shepherd is uncharacteristically evasive. His unwillingness to discuss the War foreshadows the polemical Pacto de Olvido (‘Pact of Forgetting’) enacted after Franco’s death in 1975, a cross-party agreement to eschew critical reflection about the regime; this self-imposed collective amnesia would not be officially challenged until the introduction of the 2007 ‘Ley de Memoria Histórica’ (Historical Memory Law).
Drawing on a trope utilised in canonical examples of Spanish cinema, such as Guillermo del Toro’s El Laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006), the child protagonist denotes a vulnerability and innocence that underlines the barbarity of the regime and evokes the potential for an optimistic future that reconciles the country’s tumultuous past. While Zambrano’s 2011 adaptation of Dulce Chacón’s La Voz dormida (The Sleeping Voice) is set in a Francoist women’s prison, an environment ostensibly invested with political repression, Intemperie offers us a metaphorical depiction of this repressive regime through imposing shots of the suffocating wilderness.
The vast estates where the action takes place function as clear political commentary; the setting alludes to the land reforms enforced by the liberal Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939) that revolutionised workers’ rights and, not unexpectedly, enraged the wealthy landowners, who are here embodied by the sadistic foreman. The image of subjugated land workers reminds us of the more egalitarian Spain eradicated by the Nationalists’ victory and the anti-union, authoritarian quality of Franco’s political project.
A poignant reflection on liberty, morality and collectivism in Francoist Spain, Intemperie is inflected by socio-political and cultural legacies that invite us to re-evaluate questions of liberty, identity and introspection – both individual and collective – in contemporary Spain.