Needless to say, scholarship on La caza has devoted considerable attention to the film’s masterful critique of the Franco dictatorship (1939–75), a critique made all the more impressive given the strict censorship laws to which the film’s production was subjected. In fact, the constraints of censorship are largely responsible for the innovative measures that Saura, along with his producer and henceforth lifetime collaborator, Elías Querejeta, had to engineer. This, in part, explains why after undergoing several script changes, not least of which included eliminating any overt national or historical references to the Civil War, the film relies so heavily on the embodied aesthetic of the landscape, as well as on framing and editing techniques that elicit a sense of confinement. From the opening credit sequence, which is a long take of agitated, caged ferrets, to the last final freeze-frame shot of Enrique running out of the desert panting for dear life, the film’s visual language of imprisonment functions on multiple levels – spatial, physical, emotional and psychological – and ingeniously replicates the very circumstances under which Saura and his crew were working. Of course, the characters reproduce this logic as well, since their psychological entrapment leads to a practice of self-censoring, articulated as a symptomatic and ultimately incurable pact of silence. Thus, in order to speak about Spain’s political and cultural climate of repression, Saura adopted a strategy of self-censorship, grafted onto the fiction of the text.
Worth noting is that the film was shot entirely on the location of a real former battle site outside of Madrid, a detail that has led some critics to perhaps overly emphasise the film’s neo-realist aesthetic, a claim that Saura himself has repeatedly contested. But for as authentic as the geographical location and its history are, the film’s mise en scène is anything but straightforwardly realist, with its high-contrast black and white generating quasi-surreal lighting extremes that oscillate between dark, impenetrable shadows and the bleached effects of underexposure, all of which are the result of the natural light of the sun. Moments of over and under-exposure, as we have seen, occur in the narrative as well. Underneath the veneer of silence, flashes of a persistent and untimely past ignite a flame that fuels the perpetual cycle of violence.
Beyond depicting the evolution of the repetitive cycle of violence, La caza also examines its origins. One point of interest that curiously has been given little attention is the cadaver of the unknown solider. Often cited as an inconsequential or excessively transparent object, the cadaver, preserved and kept secret in a cave, is arguably the most important object in the film and is significantly located at the very centre of the main action. While spatially it is placed in the centre of the cave (an old bunker from the war), which is located in the centre of the hillside, temporally its ‘revelation’ occurs at the middle of the film’s duration, indicating a decisive turning point in the narrative. Once the cadaver comes into view, what is symbolically brought to light (reiterated literally as José strikes a match in the cave to illuminate his ‘secret’) is the body as a site of loss.
But this body is paradoxically lost and never quite lost enough. In other words, it constitutes an absence that cannot be mourned. Similarly, the body’s presence, while conjuring a common history among the men, fails to solidify their homosocial bond. It is perhaps unsurprising that the two men in the cave scene should have opposing reactions to the unveiled secret of the dead soldier’s presence. This opposition underscores the fundamental tension between entering into the pact of preservation in which the lost object is guarded and shared, and wilfully casting it into oblivion, visually rendered in the film as leaving it in the dark. Between, on the one hand, the desire to witness and communicate this loss, and, on the other hand, the desire to keep it buried and thus out of sight, we begin to arrive at a deeper reading of the film: it is not simply that the hunters perpetuate a cycle of violence, but that they do so because they are unable to articulate and mourn their mutual loss.
For many critics, La caza stands as the neo-realist cornerstone of not only Saura’s oeuvre but also New Spanish Cinema. Whether we classify the film as neo-realist or not, its cinematic invention and visual articulation of repression is nothing shy of brilliant. In weaving together a multitude of surfaces and temporalities that create new ways of seeing what could not be said, La caza has distinguished itself as a classic that will engage viewers for decades to come.
Patricia M. Keller
Cast and Crew:
[Country: Spain. Production Company: Elías Querejeta Producciones Cinematográficas. Director: Carlos Saura. Screenwriters: Angelino Pons and Carlos Saura. Producer: Elías Querejeta. Cinematographer: Luis Cuadrado. Editor: Pablo González Del Amo. Music: Luis de Pablo. Cast: Ismael Merlo (José), Alfredo Mayo (Paco), José María Prada (Luis), Emilio Gutiérrez Caba (Enrique), Fernando Sánchez Polack (Juan), Violeta García (Carmen).]
Roberto Cueto, Roberto, La Caza: 42 Años Después, Valencia, Ediciones de la Filmoteca, 2008.
Marvin D’Lugo, The Films of Carlos Saura: The Practice of Seeing, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1991.
Marvin D’Lugo, ‘La caza [The Hunt]’, in Guide to the Cinema of Spain, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1997, pp. 43–4.
Marvin D’Lugo, ‘Landscape in Spanish Cinema’, in Graeme Harper and Jonathan Rayner (eds), Cinema and Landscape, Bristol, Intellect, 2010, pp. 117–30.
Sally Faulkner, ‘Ageing and Coming of Age in La caza (The Hunt, 1965)’, in A Cinema of Contradiction: Spanish Film in the 1960s, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University, 2006, pp. 145–74.
Marsha Kinder, ‘Carlos Saura: The Political Development of Individual Consciousness’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 3, 1979, pp. 14–25.
Marsha Kinder, ‘Sacrifice and Massacre: On the Cultural Specificity of Violence’, in Blood Cinema: The Reconstruction of National Identity in Spain, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993, pp. 136–96.
Katherine S. Kovacs, ‘The Plain in Spain: Geography and National Identity in Spanish Cinema’, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1991, pp. 17–46.
Elena Medina de la Viña, ‘Una vuelta a nuestra memoria: La caza, de Carlos Saura’, in Quaderns de Cine, Vol. 3, 2008, pp. 113–19.
Antonio Monegal, ‘Images of War: Hunting the Metaphor’, in Jenaro Taléns and Santos Zunzunegui (eds), Hispanic Issues. Modes of Representation in Spanish Cinema, Vol. 16, 1998, pp. 203–15.
Felipe Aparicio Nevado, ‘“La Caza Del Hombre,” Recreación de un motive legendario, novelesco e histórico en La Caza de Carlos Saura’, Arbor, Vol. 187, No. 748, 2011, pp. 269–77.
S. García Ochoa, ‘“Mirarse en la pantalla”: El cine de Carlos Saura’, Hispanic Research Journal, Vol. 10, No. 4, September 2009, pp. 357–69.
Margarita Pillado-Miller, ‘La República va al doctor: Síntomas de la Guerra Civil en tres películas de Carlos Saura’, Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies, Vol. 1, 1997, pp. 129–40.
Augustín Sanchez Vidal, El cine de Carlos Saura, Zaragoza, Caja de Ahorros de la Inmaculada, 1988.
Carlos Saura and Angelino Fons, La Caza: Guión, Madrid, S.N., 1973.
Carlos Saura and Linda M. Willem, Carlos Saura: Interviews, Jackson, MS, University Press of Mississippi, 2003.
Schwartz, Spanish Film Directors (1950– 1985): 21 Profiles, Metuchen, NJ, Scarecrow Press, 1986.
John David Slocum, Violence and American Cinema, New York, NY, Routledge, 2001.
Guy H. Wood, ‘Thomas Hobbes y Carlos Saura: Una aproximación leviatánica a La caza’, Film Historia, Vol. 12, Nos. 1–2, 2002, internet resource, www.publicacions.ub.es/bibliotecadigital/ cinema/filmhistoria/2002/lacazahtm.
Guy H. Wood, ‘Plagios, plagas y descastados en La caza de Carlos Saura’, Letras Peninsulares, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2003, pp. 163–79.
Guy H. Wood, La caza de Carlos Saura: Un Estudio, Zaragoza, Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza, 2010.
The Routledge Encyclopedia of Films, Edited by Sarah Barrow, Sabine Haenni and John White, first published in 2015.