Transnational Cinema

This essay explores the Spanish film industry in relation to transnational cinema elements in Babel (2006) and El Laberinto Del Fauno(2006) directed by Guillermo Del Toro.

Transnational cinema goes beyond national, unlike international cinema, which is aimed at a worldwide market. iT focuses on cultural influences, which have been made successful due to the cast, crew and production. In terms of culture there is truth in the matter that cultural boundaries in film have created hybrid substitutes (Morgan, 1998)On a positive outlook, this brings traditional cultures into place; however some directors look for a new kind of transnational film, one that shows identities that people didn’t know about other cultures.

Nowadays, films often are transnational as there is a huge distribution of regional culture via internet, digital media, video games, cell phones and film festivals. In order to clarify if a film is transnational, it is important to consider: methods of production, distribution and exhibition, co-productions and collaborative networks, new technologies and different patterns of consumption, transnational film theories, migration, journeying, film and language, interrelationships between the local, national and the global and transnational and postcolonial politics.

Also, noticing an expansion from characters’ lives to culture changes is a key signifier alongside infusions of American culture where there are mixes of high and low culture including European art cinema and consumer lifestyles, postmodernism.

Historically, European cinema was considered to be transnational in the 1930s (Bergfelder, Harris and Street, 2007). Today however, more films are just as clear examples as they were then. For example, bearing the director Guillermo Del Toro in mind, he proves that Spanish film can be regarded as transnational cinema, with both of his films. They both have key elements of transnational cinema in them which are to be further discussed.

Firstly, Babel (2006) portrays females as objects which is a dominant theme. The more attractive (influenced by Hollywood female roles) women are, usually means that they are thought of as objects of the camera’s gaze, mostly popular for the male audience. Susan, who represents a Western ideal of beauty, is dressed in a white blouse that makes her pale complexion and blonde hair stand out even more in the African setting. Here, using an African setting shows that Guillermo has explored other cultures.

We see a character looking outside the bus window, however no profile shots have been used so that her gaze remains mostly hidden to the audience. The shots of the Moroccan desert and people are significantly there to set the scene, so that Susan’s point of view represents a typical U.S. tourist’s exterior look at other cultures. With a film title as ambitious as this, ‘Babel’ which is associated with confusion; the difficulty with being able to differentiate between sound and voices not only reinforces the audience to take their perspective of what it relates to in the Spanish culture but to acknowledge that Spanish film can be an example of transnational cinema.

Babel’s five languages (English, Arabic, Spanish, Japanese and Japanese sign language) and four multicultural settings that are: San Diego, Morocco, Tokyo and Mexico, clearly helps the audience recognize the diversity that the name of the film relates to. Evidently, the audience can see the world’s linguistic and cultural diversity in order to connote a global communication and transnationalism.

The film’s cinematography creates a connection between the original storylines. Babel cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto has made great success in making the film whilst combining all the different locations (France, Mexico and the United States), crews, and languages in order to contribute to transnational film making.

With regards to Higson, it valid to say that transnational cinema is not new invention in cinema (Andrew Higson, 2010) as throughout the years, transnational cinema has been influenced by so many different cultures and lifestyles. On the other hand, it is believable that today there is a new type, as there is more for directors to look back on and make a clearer understanding of what transnational cinema actually is.

Taking El Laberinto del Fauno into account, we learn that it is situated in 1944, five years after the Spanish Civil War in Spain. The film tells the story of a preoccupied little girl, Ofelia who is too concerned with the rural military in Spain by her new stepfather who she very much dislikes, the Captain Vidal.

Throughout the film, local events are significant to a global audience to contribute to transnationalism. Not only does this key element of transnational cinema exist (being postmodern) but El Laberinto Del Fauno also had its first premiere in an English-speaking country at the London FrightFest Film Festival on August 25, 2006; it was released in Spain October 11, 2006, followed by a release in Mexico nine days later. On November 24, 2006 it had its first general English release in the United Kingdom; followed by releases in France, Serbia, Belgium, Singapore, South Korea, Russia and Italy.

It is clear that the film contributes to transnationalism as the characters’ lives are affected by Spanish tradition and culture. For instance, Mercedes takes the role of a mother to Ofelia and helps the rebels from the mill. She is only capable of using violence in order to defend herself.

Also, she continues to fight for her the right of freedom. The film is based on both a fantasy world and the real world in order to distinguish between rich and happiness. Spanish history, gender, nationality and identity are all important factors which assist in the making of the transnational film.

As with reference to Higson, as we can say that Guillermo plays a part in his role which explore the transnational concept having worked in various countries and making mixed cultural relationships (Higson, 2010). Guillermo not only enjoys working from a perspective of those in Spain but those from Mexican backgrounds too. Especially as, El Laberinto Del Fauno was filmed in Spain and Mexico and narrated by Pablo Adán.

We can relate to the idea that female characters deviate from the norm as they solidify their superior to men (Jordan and Morgan, 1998). Guillermo Del Toro is a well-known, successful director worldwide who sends important messages to the audience, one of which is, it is vital that there are strong female characters in the film because of the tradition that men are superior to women.

Ofelia visits the labyrinth a lot and we see elements of fantasy from round shapes on the trees to warm colours of gold and red which contributes to the idea of supernaturalism in transnational cinema. In addition, it is convincing to say that transnational films involve work both in and out of mainstream cinema (Shohat and Stam, 2003). Guillermo Del Toro has written and directed films shot in different foreign locations with the use of different cultures in order to create one narrative.

With regards to the mainstream conventions, Guillermo wants to have a narrative, one that is mostly his own in order to connote how Spanish film can be considered as transnational cinema. Characterization is thought of very highly as the audience are given the impression that a lot of time and effort and got into the costume design and character profile behind each role.

At times, there is an element of surprise which is present (for example, when the faun behaves both good and bad, he wants to help Ofelia have a rich life of freedom but she has to undergo difficult tasks which disobey her family) therefore, the film uses morals of the Spanish culture as to whether Ofelia should resist or be tempted to explore and ignore her mother.

The use of three in the film is convenient (three keys, three doors, three tasks and so on…) When Ofelia approaches these, the audience notice that her mother’s reaction for her whereabouts and behaviour is conventional of not only the Spanish culture, but the majority of mothers worldwide as stereotypically, a mother wants their child to obey their orders. The mother respects the Captain Vidal and shows her disappointment towards Ofelia by seeming upset when she dirties her new green dress and shoes which took a lot of effort to hand-make.

With regards to, Lera, it is valuable to mention that directors need to adapt to new technology in order express the language of the modern world (Lera, 1999). Guillermo has successfully explored the use of special effects in order to demonstrate that he can adapt to new media in transnationalism, especially in El Laberinto del Fauno.

For example, there is an unusual creature that has some human-like body parts Guillermo chose to put a man in a costume but as an audience from the UK for example, they could find this quite strange if they haven’t consumed such media before; however, Guillermo del Toro knows that something new needs to be produced with the idea of mixing both cultures and new media together.

Having considered all aspects of Spanish film, we can see that cinema has not been a source of entertainment which has attained its national aspects since it commenced (Berthier and Seguin, 2007). Likewise with transnational cinema, Spanish film has progressed a huge amount and it will do so even more in the future for that reason, it is believable that Spanish film is an example of transnational cinema.

There will be new and improved technology, new knowledge about different cultures for directors to learn and more to look back on in the history of Spanish cinema to develop its traits of transnational cinema.

Also, we can see that women play a key role in transnational films where their cultures clash and become part of the transnational impact. (Kibbey, 2005). Consequently, directors such as Guillermo Del Toro will continue to use his transnational film conventions alongside women as they are gaining more equal rights and freedom nowadays more than the past.


Lera, Caparrós J.M. (1999). Historia crίtica del cine español. Barcelona: Editorial Ariel, S.A.

Jordan, B and Morgan –Tamosusans, R. (1998). Contemporary Spanish Cinema. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Shohat, E and Stam, R (2003). Multiculturalism, Postcolonality and Transnational Media. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Bergfelder, T, Harris, S and Street, S. (2007). Film Architecture and the Transnational Imagination: Set Design in 1930s European Cinema. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press

Berthier, N and Seguin, J-C. (2007). Cine, nación y nacionalidades en Espana. Madrid: Casa de Velázquez

Berriatúa, W (2006). Cine Español, Spanish Cinema 2005. Madrid: Ministerio de Cultura

Jordan, B and Morgan –Tamosusans, R (2000). Contemporary Spanish Cultural Studies. Great Britain: Arnold, a member of the Hodder Headline Group

Pearson, R and Simpson, P (2000). Critical Dictionary of Film and Television Theory. Oxford: Taylor & Francis

Kibbey, A (2005). Theory of the Image: Capitalism, Contemporary Film, and Women. Indiana: Indiana University Press

Higson, A. (2010). Transnational Cinemas. Transnational developments in European cinema in the 1920s. 1 (14), 69-82


Babel, 2006. [Film] Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. United States, Mexico, France. Summit Entertainment, Central Film, Media Rights Capital.

El Laberinto Del Fauno, 2006. [Film] Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Mexico, Spain. Estudios Picasso, Telecinco Cinema.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s