Tag Archives: Spanish Civil War



Format: DVD

Release date: 1 September 2014

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Juan Carlos Medina

Writers: Luiso Berjero, Juan Carlos Medina

Cast: Àlex Brendemühl, Tómas Lemarquis, Ilias Stothart

Original title: Insensibles

Spain 2012

101 mins

It’s 1931. A girl finds her younger sister playing with fire, quite literally: the child’s arm is on fire, but she is quite calm, telling her sister that it doesn’t hurt at all. In order to share the game, she pours lamp oil over her older sister’s head and lights it with the flames on her arm. To the young girl’s horror, her sister begins screaming in agony as she is consumed by the fire. A young boy is found with abrasions all over his body; like the girl, he felt no pain as he chewed and ate parts of his own flesh. The authorities decide the best course of action is to have these children – and several others like them – incarcerated in a lunatic asylum, where they are strapped into straitjackets (with a muzzle for the boy described above) and left in padded cells where they can do no harm to themselves or anyone else.

In the present day, a doctor survives a car crash that kills his pregnant wife, although their premature baby is alive, with a slim chance of survival. When a scan is performed on the doctor’s body after the accident, it reveals that he has lymphatic cancer, and only a few months to live. In need of a bone marrow transplant, he goes to see his estranged parents, where there are revelations in store.

This synopsis only covers the first 30 minutes, so I haven’t given much away. On a technical level, Painless is exemplary. First-rate cinematography and art direction give a yellow, musty and retro feel to the scenes in the 1930s, while most of the present day scenes possess an angular, modern and sterile look. Symbols of modernity abound in the latter thread, characterized by sleek new cars, computers and scientific equipment that are at odds with the old-fashioned medic equipment that resembles medieval instruments of torture. The high-quality technical elements are matched by superior acting, particularly from Paul Verhoeven regular Derek de Lint, as a scientist determined to understand and treat the children’s condition, and Àlex Brendemühl as the dying doctor of the modern era.

However, Painless is not easy viewing. Director Juan Carlos Medina subjects his characters to every kind of indignity, misfortune or brutality, whether it is deliberate, unintentional or arises from an unfortunate twist of fate. The children inflict horrible wounds on themselves, only to be thrown into padded cells and brutalized by the staff, who treat their condition like a child’s bad behaviour rather than a medical condition. The doctor loses his wife (and possibly his son, who might not survive), develops cancer and then discovers another painful secret that may be a significant factor in his approaching demise. Even the kindly scientist has been forced to flee from the Nazis because he’s Jewish. Examples of human kindness are few and far between, and most of those can do little to stop the tide of misery and cruelty depicted by the film. For that reason it’s not an easy film to recommend, although it’s an interesting take on the legacy of the Spanish Civil War.

Jim Harper

Watch the trailer:

Black Bread

Pa negre

Format: Cinema

Part of Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival

Date:11 + 13 March 2012

Venue: Cornerhouse, Manchester

Director: Agustí Villaronga

Writer: Agustí Villaronga

Based on the novel by: Emili Teixidor

Original title: Pa negre

Cast: Francesc Colomar, Roger Casamajor, Marina Comas, Nora Navas

Spain 2010

108 mins

A man is attacked in the Catalan woods, brutally murdered by a cloaked assailant; his son, in the back of their horse-drawn wagon, is driven over a cliff and left to die. Found by his friend Andreu (a terrific Francesc Colomer), the boy breathes out the name of a ghost in his final moments: Pitorliua.

It’s an incredibly dramatic opening to Agustí Villaronga’s 2010 award-winning adaptation of Emili Teixidor’s novel. Set in the years immediately following Franco’s crushing victory, Black Bread is not just another story, similar to Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), of the Spanish Civil War as seen through the eyes of an imaginative child. While history is important to the narrative, the director cleverly subverts the audience’s expectations, slowly revealing a much more nuanced and layered film, with a disturbing mystery at its core. It’s a gripping, richly textured work, and if the symbolism at times seems heavy-handed, that minor weakness is more than made up for by the twists that the plot takes.

As the film begins to unfold, the audience learns that Andreu’s father, Farriol (Roger Casamajor), and the murdered man were friends and fellow trade unionists, both on the losing side of the war. Was his death some sort of revenge, a score settling? Is Andreu’s father next? In the eyes of the police, the victors, Farriol must be guilty. His only hope is to flee over the mountains and into the relative safety of France, a route many men, lucky enough to escape the purge of the reds, have already taken. Andreu is sent away to live with his grandmother, who is a caretaker for a wealthy family headed by an overbearing matriarch, who will later hold the fates of Farriol and Andreu in her hands. Along with Andreu, his grandmother also shelters his family’s abandoned women and children, including the wild Nuria (Marina Comas), a cousin who lost a hand to a grenade. Although the adults pretend that her father also escaped to France, she knows the much more disturbing truth.

At night, Andreu and his cousins live in a shadowy world of superstitions and storytelling; there’s an air of menace in the dark and gloomy, claustrophobic farmhouse, perfectly captured by Antonio Riestra’s hand-held cinematography. The children, who are outcasts and misfits, paying the price for their parents’ socialism, see intrigue and adventure around every corner. And, in some ways, the children are right: conspiracies and cover-ups are everywhere. But the biggest mystery that Andreu has to solve is how the ghost of a man who is said to haunt the woods, cursed ever since the war, could be involved in the death of his young friend.

Complex questions about guilt and innocence aren’t neatly resolved; Farriol, who still professes devotion to his ideals, is not necessarily the victim he first appears to be when he’s persecuted for the murder by the fascist mayor (Sergi López), who once pursued Andreu’s mother (Nora Navas). And when the story spins in a completely unexpected direction, it’s not even clear that the vicious crime is directly related to the war at all. The truth is that a conflict of that horror and magnitude provides cover for a multitude of sins.

While the film isn’t a witch-hunt, it is unsparing in its criticism of the Church. The clergy, on the side of the fascists, sit in judgement on their parishioners, even controlling what they eat - allowing those unfortunates on the losing side only coarse, black bread as some kind of twisted punishment. It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that, in the end, a bitterly disillusioned Andreu chooses the path that he does.

Sarah Cronin