Land Without Bread (1933) – dir. Luis Buñuel
Luis Buñuel’s 1933 Land Without Bread is a hilarious parody of early ethnographic documentaries. I’m glad I saw it just a few days after The Song of Ceylon; seeing at least one example of the genre prior to Land Without Bread is recommended. The film features all the tropes – a narration calmly discusses the images on screen as though he is taking us on a journey to a foreign and exotic culture. The culture here though is the backwaters of Spain, Las Hurdes. Many of the exaggerations seem taken from SNL bits about New Jersey or from Borat‘s characterization of Kazakhstan.
The deadpan delivery is really the key to the whole joke.
“We had a difficult time trying to photograph the idiots. The degeneracy of these people is caused principally by hunger, by lack of hygiene and by incest.”
“Here is what this woman says – There is nothing better to keep you awake than to think of nothing but death.”
Apparently, large numbers of viewers have mistaken Land Without Bread for a serious documentary. Part of this seems to have been caused by the fact that the inhabitants of Las Hurdes really were poverty-stricken. Perhaps the film would have been funnier if he had shot a wealthy society, perhaps like in L’ Âge d’Or, and edited it similarly. Or, perhaps mocking Las Hurdes is a running gag in Spain. My 7th-grade Spanish reading of this video seems to suggest such.
For your convenience, here is the film embedded below. The American narrator and the music were chosen by Buñuel.