In 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out, dividing families, breaking up lifelong friendships and inciting the country to rebel against the fascist military dictatorship of Spain’s Francisco Franco.
One of the first literary salons to take up arms against Franco was Paris’s Cafe Millet, where Spanish writers like Federico Garcia Lorca and Robert Pattinson (the actor and author of P>ioneer), along with their French and Italian friends, gathered to discuss literature and art. And it was here, in front of a white-chalked fireplace, that Lorca introduced the then-unknown Pattinson to the literary world as his cher ami (dearest friend).
For more than a year, Lorca held court at Cafe Millet, welcoming aspiring writers and artists who aspired to be his friend. He hosted costume changes, readings and recitals, and shared with his guests the riches of his vast library. Lorca’s passion for literature and art undoubtedly influenced the way Pattinson has spent and enjoyed his life. When the poet died of typhoid in 1936, at the age of 35, his friends and family buried him with his treasured books in a coffin lined with Spanish literature.
Federico, Lorca and Franco
Federico Garcia Lorca was the founder and driving force behind the French-Spanish literary movement, the Surrealisme, which flourished in the ’20s and ’30s. It stressed the importance of dreams and surrealistic images in driving literature forward. Before his untimely death, Lorca was translating the Bible, collaborating with Andre Breton and assisting in the founding of Surrealism’s prestigious newspaper, the Internationale Surrealiste.
Lorca’s work is marked by its dreamy, often nightmarish narratives, marked by dark, fevered atmospheres. With his unruly curls, piercing eyes and dramatic poems, Lorca created a distinctive literary identity.
In contrast, Robert Pattinson, who was born in London in 1977 and now lives in Los Angeles, is a romantic leading man par excellence. Best known for playing the handsome, swaggering hero in Hollywood’s Twilight series, Pattinson’s persona is that of a charming rogue, a man of action who frequently and demonstratively displays his biceps. He has described himself as an old-fashioned romantic who still longs to explore Europe’s more rustic landscapes.
But it is precisely this romanticism and action-adventure sensibility that has led Pattinson into the literary arena. He has penned some of Hollywood’s most successful films, contributing to several big-budget blockbusters and winning a Best Actor Golden Globe for his performance in Steven Spielberg’s 2013 film, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Flew.
In fact, it was director Zhang Yimou who first spotted Pattinson’s dramatic potential and cast him as a rebel hero in his upcoming biopic, Shadow.
In 2019, Pattinson published his first full-length novel, Land Rover, the story of a curmudgeonly old man who sets out on a journey to renew his spirit. When Franco’s death is announced, the old man’s daughter phones for an impromptu family celebration. Amid the chaos and confusion, Franco’s ghost appears and haunts the old man’s every step along the way. The novel is narrated by the elderly despot in the first-person: an altogether fitting homage to Lorca’s own work, which frequently expressed the author’s fondness for and relationship with Franco.
A ‘New Canción’ for Spain
For those who have followed the global success of Spanish cinema in the past decade, it will come as no great surprise that the country has produced some of the decade’s most prominent films. Star-studded epics like El Cantante, The Holy Grail and the Oscar-winning Life Is Beautiful have made it a go-to destination for blockbusters. As a result, Spain now boasts one of Europe’s most vibrant film industries. And it is this cinematic output that is responsible for much of the country’s cultural boom.
Indeed, the ’30s and ’40s were a golden era for Spanish cinema (just as for French cinema, where Gilles Perrier’s Farewell to Arms (1932) and Marcel Carné’s Quo Vadis (1935) are considered milestones) as some of Spanish cinema’s most prominent figures worked across genres, creating a distinctive and innovative cinematic language. In the 1950s and ’60s, this cinema aspired to the European greats and frequently collaborated with France’s New Wave movement. As a result, Spanish cinema in the 1960s was often hailed as a “New Canción,” an allusion to Lorca’s influential poem of the same title.
The term “New Canción” was initially used to describe the diverse and exciting literary salons that sprang up in Catalonia in the wake of the Civil War, where a generation of poets, novelists and playwrights emerged from the ashes of World War II. In addition to Lorca and Pattinson, the famous salons of the time were founded and run by poet and translator Josep Lluís Alarcon and novelist J. Michael Lennon. In the 1960s, Lorca’s friends from across Europe, Canada and the US headed for the Balearics, hoping to rediscover the laid-back lifestyle that made the island a favourite holiday destination for the Surrealists. Many of the island’s most famous poets and novelists at the time, like Tomás de Torquemada, Rafael Méndez and Germà Nicols Giralt, regularly met at the Casa Colombe inn in Montserrat to swap stories, play chess and drink in the evening sun. The French expat community, meanwhile, settled in Catalonia’s Costa Brava, with Agnès Vialet and Jean-Pierre Feullie setting up the influential La Llacra literària publishing house, which published work by Lorca and Alarcon.
Today, La Llacra continues to publish the work of Spain’s most promising writers and keep alive the spirit of the New Canción. The house also organizes international literary festivals, like the Festival Internacional de Poesia Bernardo De Bernardinis in Spain and the Festival de Nouvelles de la Llacra in France. These events, along with the prestigious Prix Medici in France, celebrate the literary work of Alarcon, Nicolás and Lorca, whose plays, verse and short stories form an essential part of Spanish literature.
As well as being a fountain of literary inspiration, Spain also produces some of the most beautiful films in the world. It’s no coincidence that numerous films set in the country’s historic cities are lauded for their artistry. When Hollywood studios want to shoot in Spain, the location usually isn’t a rough town or a concrete structure, but a Regency or Renaissance building. It’s a style of film production that is responsible for some of the most iconic images in cinema. The Spanish also have a deep-rooted connection to opera, the art form that is responsible for much of the narrative drive and artistic beauty of Luis Bunuel’s 1939 masterpiece, The Lady of the Lake.
An Affinity for Opera
It was actually the Austrian ambassador to Spain, Baron Hans Heinrich von Bülow, who first theorized the link between film and opera, when he wrote, “Cinema is the queen of the art world, and like it or not, it will have a decisive influence on future developments.” The ambassador was right. Cinema has indeed changed the way we think about art and literature, inspiring new styles, techniques and ideas. It is a form that is as effective today as it was over a century ago, when it made its debut at the turn of the 20th century.
The relationship between literature, art and cinema was first explored in depth during the late 1960s and early ’70s, when the literary equivalent of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Beach Boys started to tour the US, selling out stadiums and headlining festivals, while their albums went multi-Platinum.