The highlight of the Cinema and the Spanish Civil War season at the BFI has to be the showing of Sierra de Teruel. This portrait of Republican airmen at war was shot in Spain (mostly) by André Malraux in 1938-9; work on it continued in France during 1939 but it was caught by the Second World War and never completed. It has never been seen in this version in the UK until now. A version of the film has been shown under the title Espoir (also playing in the BFI season); however this one is Malraux's own version, smuggled out to Mexico after France fell and later deposited in the US Library of Congress, where it lay unregarded for 40-odd years.
It is performed with little rehearsal but a great deal of passion by a mostly amateur cast, and this gives it a raw, documentary feel. The film culminates in a magnificent 10-minute scene in which the villagers help bring the wounded - and dead - airmen down from a mountain-top crash; this scene is apparently much shortened - or even cut? - in the Espoir version.
Víctor Erice introduced the showing with an account of the film's genesis, and an analysis of the differences between the two versions. It was a very affecting talk, which he himself found difficult to deliver at times, in particular when, at the end, he referred to the film as "una elegía para la Segunda República Española" ("an elegy for the Spanish Republic"). After the film he showed two short extracts from his current project, one of which is his own filmic response to Sierra de Teruel.
I would very much like to see if it could be possible to arrange a showing of this film at the ACIS Conference this September.