NYRB
November 24, 1977

The Lorca Murder Case

By Michael Wood

The crew with Humberto (center) in the house of Lorca in the Huerta de San Vicente
The crew with Humberto (center) in the house of Lorca in the Huerta de San Vicente

López y Guerra’s film on Lorca was made for Swedish television and shown on public television in New York in August. It is a crisp and sober piece of work, based mainly on Ian Gibson’s book. It take the conjunction of Lorca’s birth and Spain’s loss of her oversees empire from Gibson, for example, and it also borrows, if not Gibson’s actual plates, the idea of photographing the cluttered ossuary of Granada, and the pitted cemetery wall where executions took place during the Civil War. Villa-San Juan, incidentally, thinks this is not the wall where 2,137 people were shot, according to the official list. He writes that it is a new wall, the old one having crumbled under the pressure of its ugly duties.

The film doesn’t probe, and it doesn’t argue, and its chief virtue lies in its reconstruction of things past. As aging peasant, a childhood acquaintance of Lorca’s remembers that he was estudiando pa poeta , “studying to be a poet” and landscapes, houses, gardens, guitars, and old photographs combine with this old man to bring back a small fragment of the early century. A good example of the way the film work is a long close-up of an old gramophone, heavy metal head, record spinning fast beneath it, while the voice of Encarnación López known al La Argentinita sings a popular song in an arrangement by Lorca, with Lorca accompanying her at the piano. The tinny sound, and the well-preserved instrument, and the patience which keeps the camera still, give us back, briefly, a lost word.

Another attraction of the film lies in its interviews: with Lorca’s nurse, with his brother, with a cousin, with a nephew. Not because of anything there people say, but, again, because their faces and voices carry the past in them. Clotilde García, Lorca’s cousin, remembers his childhood, and what a fun-lowing lad he was, and the whole thing begins to seem sentimental and predictable. Then she talk about Lorca’s death, and we see in her face and hear in her voice not a particular grief for Lorca but the whole reactivated terror of that time: she is living it again.

Francisco García Lorca, Federico bror under inspelningen av filmen
Francisco García Lorca, Federico bror under inspelningen av filmen

The terror of the time, of course, is the subject which Lorca’s death inevitably raises. The Nationalist repression in Granada was exceptionally severe, and Ian Gipson makes the “conservative estimate” that 4,500 people fell to in and around Granada. In López y Guerra’s film, Francisco García Lorca says his brother’s death had a “political meaning” and was in some sort an “official death.” But he adds that many other people died in the same way, “for the same reason, or for no reason”. This has become the obligatory thing to say about Lorca’s murder, but it is no less important for that. Lorca’s miserable and unnecessary death matters not because he was a poet, but because every death matters, and because it helps to draw attention to all the others. And we can see this death because a poet, once we have read him, is not a name on a list, but a person.