“O corno. A story of women", chronicle of clandestine abortion in Francoist Spain under the camera of Jaione Camborda

Cinema does not forget that the right to abortion was hard won, and that it remains very fragile, as we saw in the United States, in 2022, when the Supreme Court decided to cancel the federal ruling Roe vs Wade, which since 1973 has guaranteed the right to abortion throughout the country. Immediately afterwards, a certain number of States stepped into the breach to prohibit voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion).

It is moreover to consolidate this right, legalized in France in 1975, that the French Parliament very recently, at the beginning of March, included in the Constitution the “guaranteed freedom” for every woman to have recourse to an abortion. In any case, the fight for abortion is fueling more and more scenarios; to name just a few: The Event (2021), by Audrey Diwan, Golden Lion in Venice; Annie Anger (2022), by Blandine Lenoir; or the American “indie” film Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020), by Eliza Hittman.

Immersed in the Francoist and rural Spain of the 1970s, O corno. A Women’s Story , second feature film by Spanish Basque director Jaione Camborda, has just received the Golden Shell at the San Sebastian Film Festival (Spain), the highest award. This documented fiction paints the refined portrait of Maria – played by Janet Novas, whose somewhat stiff acting we can regret –, who performs childbirth while occasionally helping women to abort.

One day, this forty-year-old has to leave everything and run away when a young girl has just died in the neighborhood. Maria had agreed to help her have an abortion. The parents suspect her, the police are on the way. There follows a clandestine trip to Portugal, which is accomplished in the silence of the night, thanks to the solidarity between those resisting the Franco dictatorship.

Choice to become a mother, or not

The word corno refers to rye ergot, a poisonous and parasitic fungus that grows on wheat: it may have been used in the past to accelerate contractions at the time of birth, but also to perform clandestine abortions. In the solitude of the rye fields, Maria picks…

There is something disturbing about the fact that this same mushroom is used in both cases, and it is also the basis of the film: O corno… works on the idea that there is no reason to oppose the fact of give life and that of terminating a pregnancy. Maria simply supports women in their choice to become a mother, or not.

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