Synopsis by Mark Deming
"Do you see this wonderful valley?" director Luis Buñuel asked his crew as they began filming this documentary; "well, this is where Hell begins." Buñuel had long displayed a love/hate relationship with his native Spain, and his bitterness rarely flowed with greater force than in Las Hurdes. While the Spanish valley of Las Hurdes Bajas is green and beautiful, the mountainous region of Las Hurdes Altas is mired in economic and cultural poverty. As captured on film by Buñuel, Las Hurdes Altas is a land of flinty soil where few if any crops will grow. Bread is a rare luxury that must be brought in from the valley. Many of the residents subsist on pork, and most suffer from dietary deficiencies. The village's only salable export is a bitter variety of honey, and the Catholic Church has all but abandoned the region; the single teacher at the village's tiny schoolhouse is the town's sole contact with the outside world. Intermarriage among the families in the village has left many of the children retarded or handicapped, and the children who are born healthy often succumb to starvation and common illnesses. And Las Hurdes is a place with no art, culture or music; intellectually, the village is as barren as its soil. While it was Buñuel's sole documentary, Las Hurdes is thematically consistent with his other films; its fascination with insects, unblinking look at human cruelty, subtle but clear disgust with the Catholic Church, and moments of jet-black humor mark it as the work of Spain's greatest surrealist filmmaker. Las Hurdes was also embraced as an attack on Franco's regime; a British leftist group screened it in the United Kingdom as "The film that answers Franco."
High Artistic Quality, High Historical Importance