16 January 2002 | khatcher-2
Excellent period piece from a fine novel
From around 1979 until about 1990 when Spain had successfully emerged from post-franquism and was safely installed as a democratic state, but before contagion from voracious commercial TV stations had set up a serious challenge, Radio Televisión Española (RTVE) carried out several highly ambitious projects in TV series. `Los Pazos de Ulloa' directed by Gonzalo Suárez is but one of these. I can still easily remember and/or enjoy (as these series have long been available on VHS and some are now coming out on DVD) such TV mini gems as `Fortunata y Jacinta' (1979) directed by Mario Camus, `La Plaza del Diamante' not listed in IMDb (the film of the same name is listed with the same director and actors, but not the original TV mini), `Teresa de Jesús' (1984) directed by Josefina Molina with Concha Velasco in the best thing she has ever done, `Juncal' (1987) directed by Jaime de Armiñán and starring an unrepeatable Paco Rabal with Rafael Álvarez in his best rôle, `Ramón y Cajal' also not listed by IMDb, and `La Forja de Un Rebelde' (1990) again directed by Mario Camus, as well as `El Quijote de Miguel de Cervantes' (1991) mentioned elsewhere in IMDb, directed by Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, who previously had adapted the script for `Los Pazos de Ulloa'.
As can be seen, most are based on some of the best novels to come out of Spain in the last hundred years or so. `Fortunata y Jacinta' by Benito Pérez-Galdós and `Los Pazos de Ulloa' by Emilia Pardo Bazán most definitely belong to this category. Whereas the former might be compared with that great masterpiece `Fanny och Alexander' inasmuch both are period pieces, the latter might be compared with a similarly rural novelist like Thomas Hardy. Both are heavily sociological works putting to the fore characteriological development and complex narrative structures, almost in Tolstoyan proportions, though Pardo Bazán tends to be facilely labelled `costumbrista'. I say this as the immensity of her main novel, `Los Pazos de Ulloa' goes beyond such glib definitions.
TVE spared no expense in making this magnificent adaptation for television, really worthy of the novel, with the best actors available at the time, and some, like Victoria Abril, who were to become much more widely known later. The photography is sumptuous, bringing out all the beauty of the region of Galicia in the extreme north-west of Spain. A `pazo' is a large country manor house where the landed gentry and their servants administered their lands and governed the peasants. For the discerning and well-versed viewer, `Los Pazos de Ulloa' is a must, as are also the other series named above. If it should come up on any of your local television stations, I thoroughly recommend the time and effort: you will perceive a good bit of European cultural background based on excellent literary work.
Unfortunately, times have changed yet again, and the advent of free air waves for any kind of commercial channel really only meant a free-for-all between all concerned. The result is a publicity battle-ground in the fierce fight for maximum audiences, which automatically means showing only the most brainless content - cheap shows, silly contests and lots of football. It is the law of the lowest common denominator: The lower the intellectual level, the more people watching, more advertising is sold and more profits go jingling into the bank accounts. Thus high production costs for these kinds of magnificent TV minis are no longer cost-effective, and it seems unlikely that many of them will ever be made again. A pity, indeed.