Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Authority and Excess in Cielo negro (1951): Challenges of Religious Melodrama in the Spain of the 1950s

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (2013), 90, (3), 311–330.

Abstract

Significantly popular when first screened in 1951, the Spanish melodrama Cielo negro tended to be underestimated by film critics and historians, who condemned the ‘Baroque’ emotional excess of a cinematic form traditionally disparaged as ‘reactionary’ and ‘escapist’ in opposition to the acclaimed Spanish (Neo)realism. The article argues that a careful analysis of Cielo negro and of its contradictory interpretations can reposition this almost forgotten melodrama within the long-standing critical debate about the relationships between melodrama and (Neo)realism. The essay also tries to show how the melodramatic excess and ambivalence of the filmic discourse, both disciplinary and emancipating, undermines an easy ascription of the movie to the category of ‘Catholic cinema’. Last but not least, by setting Cielo negro and the contemporaneous Spanish religious melodrama against the sociopolitical background of Spain in the 1950s, this article seeks to highlight the larger problems of reception faced by a Spanish ‘Catholic cinema’.

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Jorza, Diana