In the serene traditions of academia, the 2022 Spanish Pre-U syllabus snuck out like a hedgehog in the dark last month and inserted itself into the qualification’s website.
Readers may be puzzled that such a creative endeavour as a new syllabus is granted no fanfare on its emergence. They may also be horrified that yet another syllabus has been adopted after we’ve only just had the first exams based on its predecessor, which still has two summers left to run.
In this article we limit ourselves to an overview. Future editions of the Bulletin will offer expert perspectives on specific 2022 Topics and Texts as schools prepare to teach them from September 2020.
Firstly, a word on the 2019-21 Pre-U Spanish Paper 4 syllabus – held up in Cambridge as a model of innovation while still rooted in the classic triangle of Lorca – García Márquez – Almodóvar. The range and balance of the thing is hard to beat, but after years of service the likes of Borges, Martín Gaite, Lazarillo, La tía Julia…, América Latina: justicia y opresión, El cine de Almodóvar, La mujer en el mundo hispano, etc had to be rested to avoid repetition.
Only César Vallejo (first exam 2021), García Márquez’s Del amor y otros demonios and Cercas’ Soldados de Salamina survive into the new syllabus in their existing form.
Other authors and texts resurface in new guises. La villa, the modern classic of Latin American hope amidst poverty, moves from the Argentina Topic to become a Text. Joaquín Sabina also moves from Topic to Text, in the form of Nos sobran los motivos – a collection of 21 lyrics that allows closer analysis of his writing than does the current Topic.
La canción nonetheless remains a Topic option, with a biopic about Violeta Parra and documentaries about Camarón de la Isla and Chavela Vargas grouped under the header Cantantes icónicos del mundo hispano. Camarón opens up for study the world of flamenco and Spain’s gypsy heritage (NB this is not the 2005 Jaime Chávarri biopic; it is the 2018 Netflix documentary by Alexis Morante, subtitle Flamenco y revolución). The excellent Chavela Vargas documentary will additionally tap into the widespread interest in Frida Kahlo. Setters had initially planned to include the feature-length documentary Víctor Jara: El derecho de vivir en paz, but it could only be obtained from Chile and is perhaps a little dated in its presentation (time, surely, for a new documentary or biopic about him). El símbolo y el cuate, used with the current Serrat/Sabina Topic, was also considered, but with Sabina recruited as a Text it would have created an overlap, meaning the regrettable disappearance of Serrat from the syllabus.
The two great survivors of all thirteen years of Pre-U syllabuses are now grouped together under the heading Representaciones de la mujer hispana del siglo 20. They are the Mexican novel Como agua para chocolate and Almodóvar’s Todo sobre mi madre. The coup here is that the third work is La zapatera prodigiosa, meaning that Lorca and Almodóvar can feature together in the same question and answer for the first time. The choice of Lorca play allows schools to branch out beyond the well-worn Trilogía rural and experiment with something new – or stick to Almodóvar and Esquivel.
Mexican cinema replaces Argentina in Topic 1. The three films include the multi-Oscar winner Roma. La zona is the better of the other two options – a powerful indictment of gated communities and the corruption of the legal system in modern Mexico.
Topics 3 and 4 compete to fill the gap left by the América Latina: justicia y opresión option. Topic 3 uses works from Mexico, Argentina and Spain to illuminate moral and political corruption in the Spanish-speaking world, with the Mexican entry (La muerte de Artemio Cruz) representing the first appearance of boom novelist Carlos Fuentes in the Pre-U syllabus. The Argentine film La historia oficial, set at the end of the Dirty War, won the 1986 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. El reino tackles corruption in Spanish politics: it won seven Goya Awards in 2018.
Topic 4 (Dictadura y el individuo) brings together an Argentine film set just before the Dirty War, a Chilean play set just after Pinochet, and a contemporary Spanish documentary. La muerte y la doncella is a gripping three-act play that had a successful West End run as Death and the Maiden. Rojo is a 2018 film set on the classic Argentine fault-line between civilización y barbarie: the unsettling narrative is reminiscent of La villa in the Texts section, not least with the appearance of the avenging ‘TV detective’ in the denouement. El silencio de otros is a moving reminder of the way the Franco dictatorship continues to blight the lives of its surviving victims.
Latin American options dominate the Texts. In addition to La villa, new entries include Pedro Páramo, Juan Rulfo’s 1955 tale of ánimos en pena on the Mexican meseta, and Laura Restrepo’s 1995 Dulce compañía, in which a journalist investigates reports of an angel residing in a Bogotá slum – the text playing with the contrast between modern society and a magic realist universe. Suitably enough, Restrepo won the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz novela femenina prize for this work, and it is Sor Juana herself, the Nueva España (ie Mexican) playwright, who provides another new entry into the Texts syllabus with her 17th century feminist comedy Los empeños de una casa. (Sor Juana – precursor of Frida Kahlo and Chavela Vargas? Discuss…)
Some of these works need to be ordered from overseas, but all are currently obtainable except Rojo, which, as of October 2019, was still playing in cinemas. Roma and Camarón are available on Netflix.
BAS editors Robin Wallis with Sander Berg