Ay Carmela! (1990)



Director:     Carlos Saura. 

Starring:     Carmen Maura (Carmela),  Andrs Pajares (Paulino),  Gabino Diego (Gustavete),  Maurizio De Razza (Lt. Ripamonte),  Jos Sancho (Capitn),  Mario De Candia (Bruno),  Miguel Relln (Teniente interrogador),  Edward Zentara (Polish Officer),  Rafael Daz (Centinela),  Chema Mazo (Alcalde),  Antonio Fuentes (Alferez artillero),  Mario Martn (Cacique),  Emilio del Valle (Cabo Cardoso),  Silvia Casanova (Mujer presa),  Alfonso Guirao (Campesino). 

captured republican theatre players search their consciences about performing for the fascists


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.  And a few curse words. 

Carmela is the star of the Carmela and Paulino traveling show.  She dresses as a Spanish dancer, dances and sings.  Her husband is Paulino who also acts.  The third person is a young fellow known as Gustavete.  They entertain soldiers fighting for the republic of Spain against the Spanish, German and Italian fascists in support of Franco.  After Carmela finishes dancing, Paulino recites a poem dedicated to General Lister, head of the Ebro army.  The performance is stopped for a while as airplanes pass overhead.  Everyone hopes that they will not be bombed.  There are quite a few women soldiers in the audience.  Everyone breathes a sigh of relief after the noise ends.  At the end of his performance, the audience demands that Paulino do his infamous farting display.  He has digestive problems whenever he gets nervous and gained a reputation for farting.  Then Carmela comes out dressed as a symbol of Spanish liberty. Part of the stage backdrop is the flag of the Republic.  The actors and audience sing together (the Riego anthem?). 

At night the three actors share a meager meal in the back of their truck.  The three are all tired of the cold and of being hungry.  Paulino says:  "Goddamn bloody fucking war!"  Gustavete does not speak.  Carmela thinks that his experience in bombing runs has left him speechless.  The three sleep with many others in a near empty hospital.  But at night a medical doctor comes in and shouts that everybody has to get up and get out.  Wounded are being brought in from the fighting. 

Carmela tells Paulino:  "It's all your fault for signing a contract sending us to the front."  Paulino says it was that or being forced to fight for the Republican forces.   Carmela says that she wants to go back to Valencia.  But they have no gas.  So they siphon gas from a military vehicle.  When an ambulance driver sleeping in his vehicle hears some noise he turns on his lights and shouts:  "Who's there?"  Carmela volunteers to charm the guy into not noticing what is going on.  She tells the fellow that she will visit with him in his cab for only a minute, because she is looking for her two companions.  He gives her some liquor to drink, but wants to be paid by being allowed to feel her breasts.  She refuses at first, but when he tells her to go she gives in to his desires.  As soon as the two guys finish with the gasoline, she tells the driver she has to leave.  She gives him a kiss and jumps out of the truck.  And now it's off to Valencia. 

Paulino had troubles staying awake.  Carmela wakes up from her sleep and shouts to him to stop the truck.  They were in danger of going off the road.  She gets Gustavete to drive while she and her husband go in the back of the truck to sleep.  The next morning is cold and foggy.  Gustavete is in the cab of the truck sleeping.  He hears sounds of singing and gets out to see what's going on.  Troops are marching by.  An officer arrives and asks Gustavete why is he here.  And he wants to know where they are going.  He and another officer rouse the other two civilians.  Paulino salutes and hails the Republic.  Wrong choice.  The officer in charge says: "Hail Franco!"  Now they are in trouble.  Paulino now gives the Heil, Hitler salute to no effect. 

The three actors have go through interrogation. Paulino lies:  "We're artists.  We've never mixed politics with our act."  The officer replies:  "This is not the Red zone."  The officer then asks about Gustavete.  They explain that they found him on the road stark naked.  The officer then has an aide take the three over to a nearby school.  As they pass their old truck they see the soldiers taking their belongings.  It is raining pretty hard.  The front door of the school leads to a big plaza.  All the people are under the eaves trying to stay dry.  Carmela asks a woman if this is a jail.  Yes.  Carmen protests that they have done nothing wrong.  That doesn't matter.  Besides town residents seen as leftists, there are Polish prisoners-of-war from the International Brigade held at the school.  The woman, her husband and daughter have been at the school ever since Franco's forces took the town.  At night the people are packed in a large school room.  In the morning Paulino awakens to find Carmela talking to a Polish officer.  He goes over to find out what she is talking about to a Polish officer.  They are just trying to clarify where they are from for each other. 

A group of soldiers comes in and the man in charge starts picking people from the group.  The guy finds the mayor and grabs him.  The grabber seems to be a town resident because he seems to have had many run-ins with the mayor and is now delighted at the chance for revenge.  The mayor is accused of being a communist, but he denies this.  The mayor is taken out.  This upsets Carmela a great deal and she cries:  "They're going to kill us!"  Paulino tries to comfort her.  The men taken outside are lined up against a wall and executed by a firing squad.  But just as things look the darkest for the acting trio, they are taken out by Italian soldiers.  Carmela cries that she wants to confess.  She also wants to get married in a church (not just in the civil wedding that she and Paulino had).  Both Carmela and Gustavete now are crying. 

To their great surprise, they are not taken to be executed, but to the Goya Theatre.  They report inside to another officer.  He asks them what kind of performance they gave involving the Republican flag that they found in their possession.  They use the flag to try to reconstruct the act a bit. This time Carmela wears the Republican flag as a toga.  She then bares her left breast saying to her husband that this will make the officer think they were making a farce of the flag of the Republic.  This shocks the Italian officer, but he is able to congratulate Carmela on her beauty. 

The lights go on and the trio is vastly relieved to find that they are on the stage of the theatre.  The officer says his name is Lt. Arnelio Giovani di Ripamante and that back in Italy he was a theatre director.  The actors keep playing up to the theatre director and they are chosen to perform.  They are sent to get something to eat.  An Italian guard watches over them.  The trio eats spaghetti.  This worries Carmela.  She tells her husband:  "If they eat this good, we've lost the war."  The guard then escorts them to an office/home.  The officer tells them that they can look through a bunch of boxes to find costumes for themselves.  While Carmela and Gustavete look, the lieutenant stresses to Paulino that he must him him a good scene involving the Spanish flag.  Looking around, Carmela sees a wedding dress.  She tells Paulino:  "Marry me!"  She wants him to get permission from the lieutenant for the two of them to be married in a church. 

Paulino gets upset when he realizes that he has to read a lot of super-patriotic lines.  He says:  "Man this is something!"  Gustavete finds some cloth to make a dress for Carmela.  The two of them go upstairs to prepare the dress.  The guard goes with them and he keeps eyeing Carmela.  She tells her husband to take Big Eyes away.  He does so by asking the guard to share a drink with him.  They go into the living room of the home and Paulino finds some liquor for them to drink.  The soldier turns on the radio and finds some Italian Neapolitan music.  He sits down and starts drinking.  He falls asleep.  Paulino finds a bedroom and a nice, big bed.  He goes and gets Carmela.  He shows her the bed where he wants to have sex.  But as she looks around, she sees a photo of the town's mayor and his wife.  She doesn't want to have sex on the dead man's bed.  Paulino uses all his wiles to get her to agree to have sex regardless of the mayor. 

At rehearsal Carmela tells her husband that the flag skit and song are vulgar.  She calls her husband a coward.  But Paulino stresses that he is just trying to keep the three of them alive.  Carmela says:  "I'll look ridiculous!"  She makes this known to the lieutenant.  To her surprise he says he wants something crude and vulgar for the International Brigades see, for, after all, they have no culture whatsoever.  This makes Carmela wonder:  Why entertain the prisoners-of-war if they are just to be shot the next day?  "What a pity!"   She says that she can just imagine how the mother of the Polish officer will feel with the death of her son.  And she warns Paulino that she won't do the skit if the fascists bring the Poles into the theatre. 

Just before the beginning of the performance, the fascists do bring the Poles in.  They are placed under guard in the balcony.  Colonel Franco himself is present in the audience.  Carmela wonders how can she manage this.  She then says that she is going home.  Her husband has to plead with her to remain.  He says they are all actors and they will do what the soldiers want.  It's that or be shot.  He reminds her that there is a war going on.  His winning argument, however, is that he will agree to have the fancy wedding ceremony in exchange for her doing the offensive scene. 

When the performances begins, the Polish officer recognizes Carmela. Undoubtedly, he is pleased to see her still alive.  Paulino does the Heil Hitler salute.  He also introduces the theatre director.  Carmela starts adding some insults to the routine, criticizing the fascists.  Paulino reads a flattering poem to the fascists.  Carmela sings and does a Spanish dance and gets a standing ovation from the audience.  Then the lieutenant leads his Italian soldier choir in a famous Italian song.  Carmela is very unhappy because she knows that she will be doing the flag number next.  The lieutenant finishes his act and he gets a big ovation.  He then introduces the flag sketch.  The trio start performing the skit.  But Carmela just can't force herself to keep quiet.  She starts adding critical quips.  Although not sure of the exact reasons, the Polish P.O.W.s start singing one of their anthems.  It begins:  "We fight against the Moors."  The German guard starts hitting the Polish singers with their rifle butts.  Carmela asks the fascist part of the audience:  "What else can you expect?"  If you  are criticizing them and the Republicans wouldn't you expect the Poles to object?  She keeps on talking.  An officer in the crowd approaches the stage with a pistol in his hand telling Carmela repeatedly to shut up.  Carmela keeps talking.  The officer raises his pistol and shoots her in the forehead.  Gustavete screams and Paulino falls down by her side holding on to her. 

Paulino and Gustavete drive the truck to the cemetery.  They visit the grave of Carmela.  Just before they leave Gustavete starts to speak again. 


Good movie.  You don't learn a lot about history but the basics of the Spanish civil war are there.  Carmen Maura was just great as Carmela.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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