A Hemingway film and Picasso’s Guernica

September 10, 2011

Under the heading “New theories about a 20th century icon” El País reports that José Luis Alcaine has found extremely interesting parallels between the film version of Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms, and Picasso’s Guernica. Alcaine, a director of photography who has worked with Pedro Almodóvar and Victor Erice, summarises his conclusions in the Spanish magazine Cameraman (read here). A sequence in the film lasting several minutes shows airplanes attacking soldiers, and some civilians, as they advance along a road by night.

It seems a fair bet that Picasso knew this film, first shown in France in 1933, although I think Alcaine is wrong to assume that films ran for years on end. A quick sampling of the weekly cinema listing in La Semaine à Paris for the end of January 1937 comes up with Mr Deeds goes to town (1936), Mary Stuart (1936), My Man Godfrey (1936), A Tale of Two Cities (1935) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). Some of these films will actually have reached France the following year. The oldest film I spotted was the western In Old Santa Fe (1934), obviously far more commercial than the rather troubling A Farewell to Arms (1932), which was not being shown. (Readers, please add a comment below if you can trace a Paris screening of the film – the French title is L’Adieu aux armes – in April 1937.)

Hemingway with Joris Ivens during the filming of "The Spanish Earth".

Actually, with his exceptional visual memory I don’t think Picasso would have had to have seen this film often, or even recently, but I’d have thought this point was preliminary groundwork. That said, Alcaine has drawn attention to a terrific sequence in the movie. You can see it on YouTube and the relevant sequence begins at about 51’, complete with planes bombing in the darkness, frightened horse, geese… You can compare your ideas with the contrasted images here. Not mentioned in the discussion, but no less interesting, is the explicit visual comparison between the bombings and Christ’s crucifixion which comes before the sequence itself, and is very much in the spirit of the painting.

El País, and the other media I have seen, take the line that a movie, and not an event may have inspired Picasso’s painting. Amazingly, none of them even mention the bombardment of the Málaga-Almería road in February 1937, when there were enormous civilian casualties among those who were desperately trying to get away from Málaga. (Alcaine himself does mention it, but the media prefer the Hollywood angle.) Of course, Picasso was born in Málaga and this particular event must have affected him greatly – at least, if we believe Arthur Koestler’s testimony – so the film actually leads us straight back to the bombings.

If Picasso was directly influenced by the Málaga-Almería bombardments – and also, I myself believe, by the bombing of Madrid and its renewal in April 1937 (see my previous essays here and here) – then that, along with the attack on Guernica itself, shows how decisive the aerial bombardments of civilians were in shaping his emotional reactions to the war over an extended period.

Coincidentally – or maybe not – Hemingway himself was in Spain in late April 1937, and reporting on a related subject, i.e., the shelling of Madrid. I don’t know if his articles were translated into French, but Picasso will have known from his friends what Hemingway was up to. Did it renew memories of the film that had he had seen, perhaps recently, perhaps some years before?


10 Responses to “ A Hemingway film and Picasso’s Guernica ”

  1. Jose Luis Alcaine on September 11, 2011 at 4:22 am

    The name of Farewell To Arms in France was L´Adieu Au Drapeau.
    The problem arises when La Semaine de Paris has only references for a few weeks of all this years. And I remember very well, later on the 50´s, I was at that time 15 years old and a passionate of films, that you can found screening of films of 4 and 5 years before at the movie
    theater of surrondings.

  2. Jose Luis Alcaine on September 11, 2011 at 4:53 am

    Anyway I found the article excellent.

  3. Jose Luis Alcaine on September 11, 2011 at 5:57 am

    The image of the movie at YouTube is too dark, it is impossible to look at. This movie is now of public dominion. In consequence the DVD are numerous, but of very bad quality.

  4. Martin Minchom on September 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Many thanks, José Luis Alcaine. Yes, La Semaine à Paris series seems to stop at the issue I mentioned, although there may be other surviving magazines that provide full cinema listings for February-April 1937. It’s a pity that La Semaine’s listings are not available because they’re more complete than those in the daily newspapers. I’ve looked at a few – only a few – of these, but I had no luck with the Hemingway film. I do get the impression that while films often ran for longer than today in Paris in the 1930s, it would be unusual for one from 1932/1933 still to be around four or five years later. On the other hand, if we did find that it was still being shown, then that would shed an interesting light on French attitudes to war, given the film’s subject and title. And it would certainly reinforce Alcaine’s argument.

    I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m being an aguafiestas because I was quite fascinated by the film sequence. I thought there might be another way into this. In the 1930s, before people had DVDs or video to watch films as often as they wanted, it was quite common to make “the film of the book”, including numerous still photos from the movie. Strictly speaking, a copy of book of still photos from L’Adieu au drapeau should be in the National Library in Paris, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    However, through http://gallica.bnf.fr I came across the following reference:


    (in: La Nouvelle Revue Française, nº 278, novembre 1936 – I can’t access the content).

    The book itself had been translated as L’adieu aux armes, which is why I’d got the title of the film wrong. As José Luis Alcaine points out, the film was released as L’Adieu au drapeau. So this particular edition was given the title of the movie, and not Hemingway’s novel. Maybe the only change was the title and the cover, and even if the book was illustrated, it’s quite possible that it was simply packed with photos of Gary Cooper et al, and left out all the gory bits.

    On the other hand, it just might include a series of photos that anticipate the Guernica… I can’t find any trace of this edition in online library catalogs, but it definitely existed in 1936.

    Obviously, the date of November 1936, when the battle of Madrid was raging, is also important. That would help to solve the problem – if it is one – of how a film from 1932/1933 might have influenced Picasso during the Spanish Civil War.

  5. Joe Guardino on September 11, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    An excellent visual interpretation for sure. It is very cool to see two different forms of media attempting to express the same events and emotions

  6. Jose Luis Alcaine on September 12, 2011 at 3:16 am

    The first screening of L´Adieu au Drapeau in Paris was in 1933, but I have found that it was in English with subtitles. The main reason of this was political reasons: The conservative french government doesnot found the story of a desertor advisable. The “version française” was later, but I have not found the date. Can be this “version française ” was with the ” Front Populaire ” Government, but is is sure that there was one dubbed.
    One big surprise for me is that there is a translation, published, of the Farewell To Arms by the known fascist Drieu De La Rochelle (http://www.worldcat.org/)
    I think they change the French title of the movie because there was a 1933 novel titled l´Adieu Aux Armes – writer Alain Japrissot –

  7. Jose Luis Alcaine on September 12, 2011 at 3:22 am

    Last but not least: There is a lot of photos of Picasso with Ernest Hemingway. But also of Picasso and Gary Cooper and family. They were very good friends…

  8. Jose Luis Alcaine on September 12, 2011 at 3:32 am

    Evidently Gary Cooper and Picasso become friends after 1945, but it is interesting that no other big male Hollywood Star has been known as Picasso friend.

  9. Victor Joh on September 12, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    It is quite interesting to see the direct influences and effects the aerial bombardments in the Malaga-Ameria road had on Picasso. As the article pointed out, it was intriguing to notice the emotional toll such events had on citizens and how it made an impact on their personal and professional lives.

  10. Pedro Alcaine on March 26, 2012 at 2:04 am

    Jose Luis Alcaine is my younger brother and I am very proud of what he has achieved discovering the Picasso’s inspiration for his painting Guernica, it needed someone with curiosity and tremendous interests in the cinema of the last 100 years. The Farewell to Arms (1932) cinematographic “moving” images can only be observed clearly by an artist with talent like Picasso and my brother as a cinematographer, looking at images is their inspiration!… Take note that sometimes creativity is revealed when adding visual fragmented images to reality. Cinema is continuity of moving images very fast but single images are fixed; Picasso’s large canvas became the “continuity” of all the images of the atrocities he was living at that time, the film probably revealed to him in split of seconds and inspired him the painting! Sometimes it takes to see a film several times to grasp the complexity of its content.

    I am a photographer and I wanted to transfer to my photographic film canvas what Claude Monet saw with his impaired vision with cataracts when painting in Venice – His visual impairment was his visual creation has he was mastering the colours in his own mind creating “impressions” of what he saw in real time. (Like Beethoven did with sound at the end of his life). I was exploring the art of Claude Monet in Venice and searching for the Casa Rosa that no one knew until 10 years ago when I was staying at the hotel California in la Academia (Venice) I found La Casa Rosa at about 200 meters on the left; it was the consulate of Monaco. So my brother contributed to Picasso’s art and I contributed to Claude Monet’s Art. Picasso’s Guernica was painted on the same year of my birth that it is today 26 March.