If John Ford had seen Navarre, he would have found the grass really was greener. And, although the great director was not among those fortunate enough to shoot in these idyllic places, the lands of Navarre have, in fact, been explored by filmmakers from half the globe. Did you know, for example, that Orson Welles himself watched the bull-run? Or that a cinematic General Patton sheltered his troops in the very same forest where Sean Connery camped out, dressed as Robin Hood? Don't let Ford?s misfortune happen to you: don't miss Navarre and its spectacular cinematic locations.
The Way in Pamplona
However, we can?t really talk about Pamplona without a closer look at the famous festival of its patron saint known as ?los Sanfermines?, the fiestas of San Fermín. As early as 1913 the images of the running of the bulls could be seen in cinemas in half the world, astonishing audiences with these ?barbaric?, boisterous Spanish customs. However, as well as reports and articles for film and television news programmes, on the other side of the Atlantic the festivities began to
arouse interest as a backdrop for all kinds of stories. Oddly enough, while Henry King set the film The Sun Also Rises
Chimes at Midnight in Larraun
Spanish directors, on the other hand, weren't afraid of the bulls, and some Spanish films portraying the San Fermín festival are Tú y Yo Somos Tres by Rafael Gil (1962), Carnaval de Ladrones (The Caper of the
Filming No Tengas Miedo in Pamplona
Genius Orson Welles, a great fan of this fiesta and everything else concerning Hispanic culture, had his Don Quixote (Francisco Reguiro, no less) and Sancho Panza walk down the streets of Pamplona dodging between ?gigantes y cabezudos? - giant festival figures traditional in the region - in his particular version of Cervantes' classic. His fondness for the area was such that he returned a few years later with Jeanne Moreau to shoot several scenes of Chimes at Midnight in Lekumberri, a picturesque town in the middle of the Larraun Valley. He also filmed on the slope of the Sierra de Aralar mountain range, in a beautiful rustic spot boasting year-round greenery, and in a string of villages and hamlets featuring local architecture. Visionarios (Visionaires) (2012), by Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, also filmed on the plains of this valley, tells the true story of a Navarre village in which, during the Second Republic, the image of the Virgin appeared, weeping, and predicted the imminent outbreak of the Civil War.
Robin and Marian
Tasio in Urbasa
One of the latest films to take in this city also follows the ?Camino de Santiago,? The Way, by Emilio Estevez. Here he directs his father Martin Sheen on his journey through Roncesvalles, Irache, Enate and of course Pamplona, in particular the ?plaza del Castillo?, nerve centre of the city, which is referred to as the locals' "cuarto de estar" or living room.
The city also attracted the attention of French filmmakers Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, who moved their apocalyptic film Les Derniers Jours du Monde (Happy End) to Iruña and captured not only the critical moment of the "chupinazo" firework but also other places in the city like the paseo de Ronda, the San Lorenzo and Carmen streets, the bar La Cepa, the Ciudadela - a Renaissance fortification - and the La Taconera gardens.
Bajo las Estrellas
While visiting this area we mustn't forget Estella, halfway between Pamplona and Logroño; a small Romanesque town which grew around the ?Camino de Santiago? and graces the shores of the river Ega. Estella has palaces, manors, churches, convents, and beautiful bridges imbued with all the charm of the Middle Ages. Several classic Spanish films have been shot in its streets, ranging from Zalacaín el Aventurero (1928) to one of the emblematic films of new Navarre cinema: Bajo las Estrellas (Under the Stars) (2005), by Félix Viscarret. In this sort of contemporary Western, the famous monuments of Estella give way to minor roads, forgotten corners and abandoned trailers used by rootless but very Navarrese characters. Seen through Viscarret's eyes, Navarre turns into something like Arizona.
Cows in the Baztan area
If we follow the French border closely, we come across the villages of Villanueva del Arce and Lusarreta, located in the Arce Valley, which appear in Armendáriz's Silencio Roto (Broken Silence) (2001), a dramatic story about the ?Maquis?, resistance fighters under Franco's regime who sought refuge in the forests of the Pyrenees during the post-war era.
A little further north and we reach the Baztán, a green valley strongly influenced by neighbouring Cantabria, with dozens of hamlets dotted over an endless expanse of meadows where livestock graze, and which John Ford would have loved. Julio Medem could find no greener grass for his debut as a director with the film Vacas (Cows) (1991), a rural drama seen through the eyes of the cattle. The nearby nature reserve, Señorío de Bertiz, was another idyllic enclave chosen to illustrate this tale of two families feuding over four generations. Medem returned to Navarre to make Tierra (Earth) (1995), shot this time in Funes, in the south of Navarre on the border with the Region of La Rioja.
007 in the Bardenas Reales Desert
Further to the south, very near Tudela, lies the Las Bárdenas Reales nature reserve, which comes second only to Pamplona as the most popular filming location in Navarre. This semi-arid landscape covering 42,500 hectares has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO due to its rugged beauty. A soil of clay, gypsum and eroded sandstone has been moulded into strange forms resembling a lunar landscape, dotted with precipices, plateaus and hills. The arid, moonlike scenery has been used as a location for films as different as the Spanish films Airbag and Acción Mutante, the American movie The Pride and the Passion, and the Bond film The World is Not Enough. Incidentally, for the latter, one of the natural chimneys of the "Las Cortinas" hills became a bunker in Kazakhstan for a few days before being blown up in a fictitious nuclear explosion.
On our return journey we pass back through Larraun, Lekumberri and Lesaka, the towns which witnessed the filming of Orson Welles' masterpiece, Chimes at Midnight. ?The days that we have seen?, intones Shallow; and what could have been the spirited old man Falstaff's reply: ?and those which remain to be seen? ? in Navarre.