Director: Carlos Saura
Screenplay: Carlos Saura, Mario Camus, Daniel Sueiro
Cast: Luís Marín, Oscar Cruz, Manuel Zarzo, Juanjo Losada, Ramón Rubio, Rafael Vargas, María Mayer.
Synopsis: A gang of juvenile delinquents pool their resources to pay for one of their number to be put on the bill of a bullfighting contest.
To date, the only one of Carlos Saura’s 39 films that I have watched on the big screen is his directorial debut, Los golfos (1962). The film had long been unavailable in any home viewing format (I don’t think it has ever been released on DVD in Spain) and in my original run of the Carlos Saura Challenge, this was the 7th film I watched because – with no way of obtaining a copy – I’d had to skip it until a fortuitous screening at Manchester’s ¡Viva! Film Festival in 2014. A French DVD was released at the tail-end of 2013, but it has French subtitles only and was made with a far-from pristine print – as you can see from the images below.
The film shows a conscious effort to break away from the studio-set films of the time; wide establishing shots emphasise the urban setting, while domestic scenes play out in locations of palpable poverty and degradation. Unsurprisingly the film fell foul of the Spanish censor (its release was delayed for two years – and ten minutes was cut – after it was shown at Cannes in 1960) because the dreary backdrop builds into an implicit social critique, with the young protagonists (played by non-actors) fully aware that their social environment limits their prospects.
The excised footage appears to have been reinstated in the version I saw – at least there are no obvious gaps as there are in Saura’s subsequent film, Llanto por un bandido (1963) (which jumps about abruptly due to cuts). Although some of the editing choices cause sudden cuts, this would seem to have been deliberate on Saura’s part – to disrupt the ‘normal’ narrative form – rather than due to external tampering. At the time, productions had to go through ‘prior censorship’, the submission of their script before they could start shooting, and because the censors were not production specialists they usually focussed on the narrative form. Saura’s filmmaking to date had been in documentary – and he was not overly interested in questions of narrative – but you can see how the experience of going through major rewrites for Los golfos gave him ‘a deeper understanding of the ideological function of narrative as perceived in the censors’ minds’ (D’Lugo 1991: 33). Saura would subsequently move into a more opaque – or metaphorical – style of cinema, which made it more difficult for the censors to point to concrete elements for removal (although the director has said that this was not his primary motive for using metaphors, rather he had decided that he wanted to be more imaginative in the cinema he made), and with which he would make his name internationally.
There is not much in Los golfos that obviously connects to Saura’s later works besides a questioning of Spanish mythology (via bullfighting in this case) and a nascent interest in dance. The central narrative is that only one of the group has a skill that could prove to be their collective ticket out of there – Juan (Oscar Cruz) shows promise as a bullfighter, but is unable to afford the time to train or the exorbitant fee to enter an actual bullfight. On the prompting of senior member Ramón (Luís Marín), the gang agree to raise the money for Juan’s entrance fee through a series of ever more serious hustles and street robberies.
The robberies are carried out stylishly in the chiaroscuro shadows of a moving elevator or with sharp timing in the blazing sun of a parking lot – there is a slickness to these sequences that is difficult to square with other Saura films. However, the truck stop parking lot robbery reminded me of certain sections of La caza (1965); it’s something to do with the lighting (a blazing sun burns with a white heat that almost comes through the screen), but also the combination of that sharp timing with a certain economy of movement. Although Saura didn’t work with Elías Querejeta and his ‘house team’ (including acclaimed editor Pablo G. del Amo) until La caza, there is a kernel of something here that would blossom in that film. The perception that I’ve come across in my reading is that Saura managed to create his first masterpiece with La caza because he started working with Querejeta and Co. at that point, but the flashes of brilliance in Los golfos suggest that something was already forming.
D’Lugo, M (1991) – The Films of Carlos Saura: The Practice of Seeing, Princeton: Princeton University Press.