Doña Francisquita is a musical film based on Amadeo Vives 1923 zarzuela. It was highly praised upon its release. According to Fernando González García in the program notes provided by the Filmoteca Española, of the Spanish films released that year it came third in the list of films that remained longest in distribution that year. It was a critical success also, with the cinematography of Henrik Gaertner –later Enrique Guerner — coming in for particular praise. Only the odd critic raised the issue that the mise-en-scène seemed a bit German for such a Spanish theme.
One of the elements that distinguish this film from the rest of Spanish cinema of the period is that all the cinematography design, editing, musical adaptation, one of the screenwriters, and director Hans Behrendt were jews already fleeing persecution in Germany.
Another distinctive element is the way that Doña Francisquita makes female desire central to the narrative. All three female protagonists of the film, the eponymous Francisquita (Raquel Rodrigo), her mother Francisca (Antonia Areolo), and her rival, Aurora La Beltrana (Matilde Vazquez), express their desires freely and it is these desires that drive the narrative. Its worth remembering that the film was made in the context of the Second Republic´s passing of a whole array of new and progressive civil legislation in 1932, including a law permitting divorce.
You can see a trailer for the film here:
The last element that distinguishes the film is the lush look, the mobile camera, the expressive compositions that are rare to find in the Spanish cinema of this period.
According to Jacasta Berry:
When Hitler came to power in 1933, German Jewish citizens lost almost all their basic rights. UFA fired 100% of all its Jewish employees. David Oliver sensed the time had come to leave Germany. He visited Spain and set up a film company there called Iberica Films. He then invited his cousin, Kurt Flatau to become his partner. Several German Jewish exiles, who were well known filmmakers, emigrated to Spain and joined the film company. From 1933-1936, the company made four films, ” Dona Francisquita”, ” Aventura Oriental,” “Poderoso Caballero” and “Una Femana Felicidad.”
The films featured Spanish actors, but almost all of the crew members were German Jewish exiles, including Hans Behrendt, the director, Max Winterfeld, the film composer, Enrique Guerner, the cinematographer, Hans Jacoby, the screen writer, and Herbert Phillips, the art director.
In 1936, the Spanish Civil War erupted and the German Jews were driven into exile again. Some managed to survive and emigrated to France, England and America. But others weren’t so lucky. Hans Behrendt was captured by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz. David Oliver and his family managed to migrate to England and Kurt Flatau and his family went to France and then emigrated to the United States in 1941.
The story of the company that produced this film is also a fascinating one, and you can follow that here: The Story of Ibérica Films or in the bibliography provided by the program notes above:
I’ve made a screen capture of one of the musical numbers for the film (below) to give a flavour for how they’re handles, narratively in the going back and fro from what’s happening backstage, onstage, and amongst the principal protagonists in the film; and visually to demonstrate the variety of angles deployed. The poor quality is a pity, particularly considering the Filmoteca’s wonderful restoration and the gorgeous copy it made available through ‘Doré en casa’.
In 1936. the Civil War erupted and by the its end in 1939 all the new progressive social legislation was rescinded and the jewish filmmakers who hadn´t managed to flee to a freer place, were sent back to Germany and concentration camps. Behrendt died in Auschwitz. Florian Rey´s Carmen, la de Triana with Imperio Argentian, another musical, this one made by Spaniards at UFA at the height of Nazism in 1938, would seem to me to be the logical companion piece for a double screening.
The film can be seen here (at least for the duration)