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Land and Freedom Review

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In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, a young unemployed communist believer joins up to fight the fascists. Drifting between factions, surviving injury, David Carr comes to examine his own motivations and the war around him.

★★★★

If anything, this is grit and grime specialist Ken Loach’s most epic film. Now, this should be qualified, Loach’s film still occupies a docu-credible stance in his depiction of the daily toil of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and the dreams, failings and ultimate nobility of the lowly man, but in enjoining the crags of conflict and history, and on foreign soil to boot, he gains a relatively exotic note compared to the scouring pads of say Ladybird Ladybird or Raining Stones. There are even battle scenes of sorts, between more than two people, and with guns.

Loach is engaging with the way epochal events such as this impact upon ordinary people and vice versa. David Carr (played with typical conviction by the too often underrated Ian Hart) is a downtrodden idealist, who rather than mulch about, take up arms in a noble struggle. But, with Loach’s candid camera, this is not a tale of heroics but just that, a struggle. The point being made is how this struggle would come to define a man considered to have lived a normal life; the story is told in flashback from a secret store of letters discovered by his family. With its willingness to pause for a political deliberation over coffee and cigarettes, the film has a slow, real-time feel as it drifts through the multi-national ranks of the fighting bands, with David finding love, with the staunch Blanca (Rosana Pastor), and much in the way of soul searching.

Hard-edged, of course, but more eloquent and poetic than usual, this is Loach gazing toward the horizon rather than glaring at the cold streets of the downcast.

Tragic tale with massive mainstream potential