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Iberian Landscape In Jamon Jamon Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3079 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Explain how Bigas Luna’s use of the Iberian landscape in Jamón, jamón contributes to our perception of the film’s themes. Arguably one of the main concerns of the early 1990s cinematic work of Spanish-Catalan director Bigas Luna is that of place or space (Smith, 2000, 89), and it is within this context that the following discussion of Jamón, jamón (1992), the first film belonging to his Iberian Trilogy, will be placed. If location is key in setting up expectation with regard to theme in Spanish cinema (Jordan & Allinson, 2005, 36), the way in which Bigas Luna utilizes the rural locale of Los Monegros is therefore central to the audience’s ability to engage with the thematic discourse. In relation to Jamón, jamón, Deleyto (1999, 270) emphasizes the complex use of filmic and real space as the main device with which the principal themes of gender roles and national identity are communicated, themes which form part of what Fouz-Hernández (2005, 189) argues is an overall strategy to scrutinize Spanish stereotypes, or ‘Spanishness’ (ibid., 189), from the viewpoint of both an outsider and insider. Consequently, by focusing specifically on the two aforementioned themes, the analysis in-hand will examine the Iberian landscape in terms of its allegorical function, whereby it continually negotiates the binary oppositions of femininity and masculinity, nature and manufacture, as well as geography and culture. Ultimately, as the concept of theme corresponds to the focus which unifies the central concerns of a film (Boggs, 1996, 10), I aim to show that it is this dynamic and ubiquitous integration of setting which, by aiding audience perception of the themes of gender and national identity, facilitates a more comprehensive understanding of the filmic work as a whole.

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Hochberg’s (2007, 57) analysis of perception indicates that as film constitutes a communicative process, initiating an early connection with the audience is key to cinematic understanding; a type of engagement which is immediately evident in Jamón, jamón. In the opening sequence, the camera pans down from behind the silhouette of a bull hoarding to reveal a sparse panorama of Los Monegros, however as its bareness gives limited indication as to the location other than that of rural Spain, the setting is instantly set up as a symbolic ‘mar de tierra, donde la aridez hace que todos los elementos destaquen’ (Alegre, 1991, 10. Consequently, the geographical landscape functions as an allegorical space against which stereotypes can be constructed, in turn alluding to the thematic treatment of characters, rather than as individuals, as ‘symbols of certain kinds of “Spanishness”‘ (Deleyto, 1999, 270).

In highlighting its starkness as the means by which the audience is steered towards acknowledging the representative function of the characters, the geographical setting is performing an active role in the thematic narrative and can be viewed as a protagonist itself. A traditional reading of the earth as a signifier of fertility and motherhood, whilst rendering this ‘seventh character’ inherently feminine (Deleyto, 1999, 273), is juxtaposed with the historical as well as visually apparent reality of Los Monegros as a ‘terreno […] de secano’ (Madoz, 1850, 193). As a result, the landscape evokes an opposition between nurture and destruction which is subsequently mirrored in Carmen and Conchita; the former, an embodiment of mother-earth who uses her sexuality to provide for her daughters whilst the latter is a signifier of the arid land, given ‘her excessive displays of voracious motherhood’ (Deleyto, 1999, 285). As Hochberg (2007, 26) states that ‘symbolisation makes possible perception at a distance’, the allegorical use of the natural surroundings can be understood as a way of drawing audience attention to the problematic representations of motherhood and femininity that thread throughout the film.

The imagery connected with Silvia further demonstrates how the landscape is used to communicate a thematic narrative on gender roles. In her first joint appearance with José Luis, ‘the visual association between the hills and Silvia’s curvaceous breasts’ (Fouz-Hernández, 2005, 193) reinforces the link between the land and femininity, with the backdrop of the naked feminine surroundings figuratively mirroring Silvia’s nude upper body and thus affirming female spatial dominance in the scene. Equally, Silvia occupies a more central and superior physical position in the frame, as José Luis is seen crouching down in order to taste her breasts. As Monaco (2009, 160) argues that the power of film lies in its capacity to state rather than suggest, the use of the Iberian locale to emphasise femininity can be understood as a direct attempt by Bigas Luna to thematically undermine dominant machismo in Spain, and in doing so is calling for the audience to rethink the overall relevance of Spanish stereotypes.

By describing his Iberia as ‘a space in which […] locality is lived with uniquely sensual vividness’ (Smith, 2000, 107), Bigas Luna acknowledges a sexualised interpretation of the filmic setting. Hence, with sex central to the macho ibérico stereotype (Holder, 1998, 35), the landscape’s relation to male virility must be examined, specifically the film’s thematic portrayal of ‘a stereotypical, almost grotesque version of Spanish masculinity’ (Jordan & Allinson, 2005, 168). Given that our analysis considers the question of spectator perception, it can be proposed that it is precisely by Bigas Luna using the landscape to play with audience expectation that our focus is drawn to the thematic relevance of exaggerated displays of male sexuality. The shots of the Osborne bull hoarding, in both the opening sequence and the scene where José Luis forces himself on Silvia, present a unique perspective from which to view Aragon’s ‘paisaje desolado’ (Santabria, 2007, 16); expressly, via the rear outline of the bull’s genitals. Whereas from the roadside the observer could straightforwardly identify the image and, in the case of a Spanish audience, its meaning as a famous brandy advert (Vilarós, 1998, 235), viewing the bull hoarding from behind renders its significance difficult to decipher. Furthermore, the camera’s focus on the bull’s paquete, whilst rendering the perspective oversexed, also shows it to be fractured and so, as it sways unsteadily before the inherently feminine landscape, the shot captures a symbolic destabilization of stereotypical Spanish machismo. Consequently the manipulation of point of view in relation to the landscape (Deleyto, 1999, 273) is a way of asking the audience to take similarly critical view of Jamón, jamón’s representation of excessive masculinity.

Paradoxically, the relationship between men and the rural landscape contributes to the thematic commentary on gender roles and stereotypes, in turn highlighting the binary complexities associated with Bigas Luna’s use of setting. In Raúl’s opening sequence, the use of a travelling shot across the dry land followed by an extreme long shot stresses the framing of him in these arid surroundings, with the distance blurring the boundaries between land and men (Fouz-Hernández & Martínez-Expósito, 2007, 21). Given that Monaco’s (2009, 197) treatment of the diachronic shot indicates that unlike close-ups which deprive us of setting, long shots serve to emphasise context over drama and dialectic over personality, Jamón, jamón’s thematic concern for stereotypes over individuals is thus resonated in Bigas Luna’s negotiation of the geographic space. Furthermore, as the role of cinematography, and in particular camera movement, is key to how we perceive film by revealing the ideas and images that characters represent (Jordan & Allinson, 2005, 46), Raúl’s engagement in a mock bullfight, a stereotypically Spanish and male activity (Jordan & Morgan, 1994, 59), illustrates how the use of cinematographic conventions that incorporate the dynamics of setting serve, in effect, to define Raúl as the quintessential macho incarnate.

Nevertheless, it can be argued that any masculine association of the landscape is merely established in order for it to be interrupted by femininity, as the opening sequence then cuts to Conchita’s underwear factory where a female employee, Silvia, runs a sewing machine across a pair of men’s briefs, then to another eating a ham sandwich. Given that psychologically ‘the cut is the truer approximation of our natural perception’ (Monaco, 2009, 172), Bigas Luna’s use of it here thus encourages the audience to make an instinctive association between both the preceding and subsequent image; the dramatic interruption by these feminine images figuratively implying male castration and the undermining of the machismo image which precedes it and thus reverting back to a reading of the landscape as inextricably feminine.

The encounter in the cinematic space of femininity and masculinity reveals a further allegorical use of the rural landscape as a vehicle for thematic communication. The way in which both the huge bull hoardings and the Sansón advertisement image of Raúl’s crotch penetrate the feminine soil as well as Raúl’s use of this poster to demonstrate his worthiness to Silvia, suggest a bold masculine invasion of the feminine panoramic. Yet, no matter how imposing these symbols of masculinity initially seem against the female landscape, they will never match the vast physical scale of Los Monegros given the ‘immenses étendues de terrain qu’on y trouve’ (Berthier, 2001, 30). Subsequently, the central position which appears to be given to the male is shown to be no more than an illusion (D’Lugo, 1995, 71), as it can be suggested that it is the female terrain which in fact enables these emblems of masculinity to be erect in the first place and therefore holds the power to castrate.

Rob Stone (2002, 195) proposes that by flailing so dramatically at machismo Jamón, jamón destroys audience identification with the characters, nevertheless it is this exaggeration, maintained via Bigas Luna’s allegorical use of the landscape, which contributes to the film’s thematic treatment of national identity. In the night-time bullfighting scene Raul’s genitals are obscured by the darkness of the physical environment, with the sole light emanating from the moonlight of Mother Nature. Yet, instead of her glow framing the naked male body it delicately highlights the bull’s horns and so this gentle treatment of the bull, a phallic emblem and symbolic representation of masculinity in Spain (Jordan & Morgan, 1994, 59), combined with a refusal to reveal Raúl’s paquete, weakens the Spanish stereotype of potent machismo. Given the existence of a ‘stereotypical notion of national identity in which male virility in particular is central’ (Morgan-Tamosunas & Jordan, 1994, 60), the landscape’s role here in challenging the validity of masculine phallic dominance can be understood as a way of highlighting the issue of problematic national identity in post-transition Spain.

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The juxtaposition of the rural landscape with the manufactured setting, a space of ‘non-Spanish, globalizing […] capitalism (Fouz-Hernández & Martínez-Expósito, 2007, 21), further evokes the ambivalence of national identity; an opposition which is reflected in the male protagonists’ association with setting. Whilst Raúl’s establishing shot sustains his visual association with the natural surroundings, José Luis is situated within the artificial setting of his family home, a space highly reliant on external symbols of purchasing power (Fouz-Hernández, 2005, 192). Consequently, the initial relationship the males hold with their environment renders them personifications of the tensions between ‘the old (Raul) and the new (José Luis) in postmodern Spain’ (Fouz-Hernández & Martínez-Expósito, 2007, 20). Subsequently, the clash between the manufactured and natural setting in the filmic space reinforces the discord of national identity, including frequent shots of lorries as symbols of consumerism crossing Aragón’s barren terrain and the underwear factory drawing Raúl away from his traditional ham warehouse, a space which is a ‘showcase of hyper-Spanish and hyper-masculine associations’ (Jordan & Allinson, 2005, 167). In addition, the use of Raúl’ body as a vehicle for commercial consumption via the underwear advertisements which litter the rural panoramic, helps undercut his strength as the physical embodiment of the ‘prototypical macho ibérico’ (Morgan-Tamosunas & Jordan, 1998, 78) and therefore the waning relevance of this image in 1992 Spain. The binary opposition between manufacture and nature can be interpreted as a way of highlighting ‘the national [Spanish] struggle between traditional and contemporary definitions of economic culture and identity’ (D’Lugo, 1995, 69).

The infiltration of modernity is not simply presented as oppressive, as both Raúl and Silvia actively want to occupy the commercial space, with Raúl aspiring to own a Mercedes and Silvia desiring a shoe cupboard, both in parallel with Conchita as a representation of consumerism. As such, rural Aragon as an allegory of traditional Spain, is shown to be a place where the ‘only possible “escape” is via materialistic transactions, reflecting late twentieth century capitalism’ (Holder, 1998, 33). The characters’ participation in both the manufactured and natural space thus alludes to a definition of national identity which is no longer based on static traditions, but one that is changing through globalisation, as ‘ the postmodernist deconstruction of identity […] means recognition of the fact that “Spanishness” is a shifting concept, encompassing plurality and contradiction’ (Labanyi, 1995, 397).

The final perspective from which the Iberian landscape will be examined is revealed by Freixas’ (1992, 36) interpretation of its resonance not only in geographical but also cultural terms. Consequently, the barren space of Aragon can be seen as a canvas on which cultural references are painted in order to reinforce the themes of gender roles and national identity. The binary conflict of the physical landscape, as both manufactured and natural, nurturing yet destructive, is characteristic of Dali’s painting Naturaleza Muerta, Viva. Likewise, the positioning of the factory, cars and coke can as symbolic dashes of globalisation against the natural space brings to mind the painting’s primary interpretation of an erasure of boundaries (D’Lugo, 1995, 72), thus echoing the theme of problematic Spanish national identity in relation to globalised post-modern context.

Bigas Luna’s omnipresent allegorical use of the bull and the pig, two animals closely related to Spanish gastronomy and culture (Fouz-Hernández, 2005, 193), equally reinforces a cultural reading of the landscape. The Osborne bull itself, by historically transcending its original commercial connotations, became an ‘integral part of Spain’s cultural landscape’ (Fouz-Hernández & Martínez-Expósito, 2007, 22). Likewise, the geographical setting and the cultural significance of the pig are fused in the final sequence in a reworking of Goya’s Duelo a garrotazos; ‘la référence au peintre aragonais [Goya] dont le tournage s’est précisément effectué dans la région natale de ce dernier […] signalant une filiation artistique’ (Berthier, 2001, 60). Consequently, Bigas Luna’s parodic choice of a fight with hams instead of cudgels renders ‘el famoso jamón […] a ser arma no del macho excelente y excesivo, sino de su opuesto’ (Vilarós, 1998, 235). Furthermore, the aftermath of the duel sees the women return as a central focus to simultaneously bring together the thematic discourse in a parting pieta; the shot panning out to reveal the vastness of Los Monegros, its aridness evoking the power of mother earth which has drained the life from the men which stand before it and thus undercutting ‘the myth of Spanish machismo in a culturally prestigious environment’ (Deleyto, 1999, 281). Monaco (2009, 172) affirms that we are seldom interested in the intervening filmic space, yet the cinematographic pan draws our attention to just that, therefore its use in the final sequence can be seen as a way of emphasising the resonance of both the geographic setting and its cultural implications.

In conclusion, as film corresponds to a one-way system of communication which is composed with the intention of relaying a desired message (Monaco, 2009, 162), the discursive use of setting to reflect the dualities of gender and national identity constitutes a conscious attempt by Bigas Luna to thematically engage with the audience. By rendering femininity dominant and so subverting Spanish machismo, the Iberian landscape acts as the platform on which a critique of Spanish stereotypes is constructed. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the natural versus the manufactured setting acts as a means of connecting with a Spanish audience through self-referential reflections on the process through which their ‘identity has been reshaped by multinational capitalism’ (D’Lugo, 1995, 69). Hochberg (2007, 26) argues that our perception of a film’s themes comes not only from what we see but from what we do not see, therefore it is both the recurrent visual presence of the geographic landscape alongside its symbolic and cultural associations which renders it an effective device in aiding our understanding of the thematic discourse of a film which ‘contempla irónicamente los ritos de una cultura que […] está intentando desojarse de lo negativo del pasado pero tratando de no sustituir lo bueno tradicional por lo malo moderno’ (Evans, 2004, 41).


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