José Antonio Nieves Conde – Surcos AKA Furrows (1951)


At the end of the Spanish Civil War, a working-class family that migrates from rural Spain to Madrid in the hopes of finding a better life, and their hopes are thwarted by Don Roque, the personfication of the oppressive social forces at work in the Madrid of the 1940s.

What this family find instead is bad housing, treacherous people and black marketeering. Often hailed as Spain’s first neo-realist film, Furrows is a curious combination of city symphony, social drama and gangster thriller; its director, Nieves Conde, was a member of the Spanish Falange, and hoped to use the film as an argument against uncontrolled emigration to the cities. Regardless, no Spanish film since Buñuel’s Land Without Bread [Les hurdes] (1932) had painted as desolate a picture of Spanish life, nor pointed a finger more directly at the government for failing to take action in a rapidly worsening situation. Furrows also begins a dialogue—later taken up by films such as Ferreri’s The Little Apartment [El pisito] and Berlanga’s The Executioner [El verdugo]—about the insufficiency of a ‘modernization from above’ that refuses to alter traditional lifestyles and social relationships. The performances of the large cast are uniformly excellent.
Peña, Film Society of Lincoln Center

Surcos is considered one of the very few—if not the only—Spanish neo-realist films from the era when the style was being created and popularized in Italy. The picture only escaped censorship because José María García Escudero, Spain’s Chief of Cinematography, was progressive enough to value the film for its artistic merit.

The film dealt with issues virtually unseen during Franco’s rule, including rural immigration into the cities, poverty, prostitution, unemployment, and class conflicts. Surcos is a view of the contradictions found in Franco’s regime. The Catholic Church considered the film “deeply dangerous,” yet political observers labeled the drama of “national interest.” The film was not released until its controversial ending was removed.


The original title, Surcos sobre el asfalto (Furrows in the Asphalt)… was meant to reflect the difficulties faced by farmers in adapting to urban life at the time.

The film was shot in the vicinity of Atocha, Lavapiés, Legazpi, and Delicias, and you can see scenes from everyday life in Madrid in the years after the Spanish Civil War. The film very accurately portrays daily life—in a Corrala (a typical residence of the lower class), the café-bars of the time, the employment office, markets, music halls, the black market in the streets, etc.


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