BLACK BREAD is about the moral devastation of civilian populations in times of war. Although it features characters from among both the victors and the vanquished living together in close quarters, this is not a film about a clash between winners and losers. It is, rather, a fine-grained study of those characters' emotions. Only through their feelings do we begin to discern, far from the battlefield, the war's terrible consequences. It's almost as if we had shone a light upon an old photograph and in one corner noticed the faded image of some grey figures and then proceeded to tease out their inner lives, their contradictions and daily sufferings, all the time resisting the temptation to romanticize them, to treat them as heroes, or, above all, to stand in judgment.
The film's underlying dramatic structure is drawn from Emili Teixidor's literary works—not only his eponymous novel, Pa Negre, but several other of his other tales that were also set on the low plain surrounding the town of Vic where he grew up in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. These include Sic Transit Gloria Swanson and another magnificent novel, Portrait of a Bird Killer.
The act of multiplying the literary fonts of inspiration when the book Pa Negre is plenty long enough all by itself grew out of our desire to make the story even more devastating than that of a novel, the better part of whose nearly 400 pages are taken up with folklore and interior monologues. (This does nothing to detract from its literary merit, mind you.) What we're after here, however, is a film adaptation that will end up being absorbing, fast paced, mysterious, full of emotion and beautiful to watch.
Insofar as this is a story about feelings, it eschews folklore and the period-piece approach in favor of straight melodrama. Our approach to filming it has been, for the most part, classic, in other words, free of high-concept film language that distances viewers from the characters and what's going on. Everything is put in the service of advancing the narrative and of relying on the look in the little boy's eyes to move audiences, the same eyes through which they see that narrative unfold. It's all first person and—notwithstanding the weightiness of the events and characters, of a past that looms large—we never resort to flashbacks.
The other two genres that enliven the melodrama are the thriller and fantasy film: the thriller for the way in which it hides things and slowly untangles its riddles and the fantasy because it offers a childlike gaze that puzzles over mysterious people and places. The film never quite attains the level of fantasy, however, but confines itself to lending the story a certain magical, poetic dimension, at once real and realistic, one that emerges through the photography, the sound, and the frequent references to the world of birds, symbols of the characters' high ideals.
In order not to be too obvious, we've attempted to strip the setting of specific visual references to the political reality of the day, choosing to leave the backdrop hazy so as to reinforce a more abstract idea of tyranny over the film's characters.
Finally, the actors' performances deserve special mention. They make up the lion's share of the work that went into this film. Good adult actors and some marvelous children, especially the boy who plays Andreu, because it is hand-in-hand with him that we experience, play-by-play a devastating loss of innocence.