Los girasoles ciegos (The Blind Sunflowers) (2008)
Director: José Luis Cuerda.
Starring: Maribel Verdú (Elena), Javier Cámara (Ricardo), Raúl Arévalo (Salvador), Roger Príncep (Lorenzo), José Ángel Egido (Rector), Martín Rivas (Lalo), Irene Escolar (Elenita), Juan Antonio Quintana, Fernando Ransanz, David Janer (Falangista), Ricardo de Barreiro (Fernández), Miguel de Lira (Hermano), Fanny de Castro (Tía Lola), Carmen Losa (Sobrina).
under fascism in Spain, a high school teacher and his family has to live in fear while trying to avoid being caught by the police for the thoughts and writings of the husband
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Ourense, Spring of 1940. A young priest named Salvador asks an older priest why did he send him to war? Because he had to go and because: "We'd have had not chance without you boys." The young man says that in war one sees terrible things and one is changed. Salvador confesses that he both killed and executed people. The older priest asks Salvador if his has lost his vocation? Salvador asks how is he supposed to know that? The older man says that the Bible, when referring to people who have lost their way, calls these people "blind sunflowers". "They see no sunlight and wander lost." He decides to have Salvador teach until June to battle toddlers.
A car drops Salvador off at his place to teach.
A young woman named Elenita is packing her suitcase and tells her little bbrother Lorenzo that she is leaving so the police won't catch her boyfriend Lalo. Lalo's crime was to write verses against priests and rich people. The young lady goes to ask her mother Elena if she should take a certain coat with her. Mom says: of course. At the breakfast table sits Lalo and his father-in-law Ricardo. Dad and mom worry about Lalo and Elenita being taken over the border into Portugal. The doorbell rings and dad and Lalo hurry back to a hidden room. There is a woman, the landlady's niece, at the door wondering when Elena, the mother, will finish her Aunt's clothing. Elena says Friday.
Dad and Lalo come out of the hidden room. Lalo says the "coyote" has already taken two of his friends over the border. He will receive fake papers and taken to Lisbon. Mother is worried because Lisbon is so far off and Elenita is pregnant. Lalo says that his wife Elenita is coming with him. Mom reminds him that Elenita and he are not yet married. Lalo's girlfriend comes in and tells mom that they will get married in America. Elena is shocked at this even farther away destination. Lalo gets mad and says they are going to American and that's that.
So Lalo and Elenita take off headed for Portugal.
At school everyone has to give the fascist salute while they salute Spain and Franco. Elena takes her son to school, arriving late. Salvador keeps glancing at the pretty Elena who stands in the background.
Salvador asks Elena's son what his name is? It's Lorenzo Mazo Martinez. He has the boy do a division problem. The boy successfully does the division on the blackboard and Salvador asks him who taught him division? He says his mother taught him. What about his father? Lorenzo says his father died. Then he asks if the woman wlo brought him to school today is his mother? Yes. It seems Elena has made a hit with the teacher.
Lalo is carrying all the weight, but his girlfriend starts to give out. She tells him that she can't go any farther. Lalo tells her that they don't have far to go now. When the woods ends, they will be in Portugal. But they have to reach Portugal before dawn. She says she's cold and "it" hurts. So Lalo goes to check out what is ahead of them. He finds an abandoned house.
Lorenzo is going out bird hunting with a birdline. Elena fixes him an egg omelet that she slides between two pieces of bread. She tells Lorenzo to go tell daddy goodbye. Lorenzo tells dad that Paquito's father, Camilo, is taking them out into the woods. Dad tells his son to be careful out there.
After the son has left the house, dad goes back to typing a manuscript he is translating. Elena says she hopes that they will pay her for it. Elena starts kissing her husband's neck. He asks her to get him a drink. She looks a bit offended by this rejection.
There's a small group of boys with Camilo. They scare the birds and Camilo tells them to not yell until all the birds are in the traps. So far they have caught 13 birds. Camilo gives Lorenzo one of the small birds. A little later Camilo puts the single bird in a cage by itself. He then tells Lorenzo that he has to skin the birds before they fry them. Lorenzo doesn't like this idea one bit and runs off. Camilo laughs at this.
Elena brings the manuscript to a man named Ferrandiz who works in a shop . He tells her that she can go ahead and make a phone call with his phone. She calls her Aunt Lola. She tells her that her daughter Elenita and Lalo have gone. Aunt Lola says that she and little Lorenzo should come over and live with her. Elena tells her aunt that she has certainly thought about that possibility. She is now interrupted by the shop owner who gives her an envelope. Elena thanks him. The man asks her how did she come to know the German language. Elena says she exchanged letters with a Condor Legion pilot during the war. He was killed by the Reds. The shop owner says they should all be thankful of Germany giving them so much aide in the war (that is, the Spanish Civil War). He has a portrait of Hitler on his shop wall.
Dad and Lorenzo are in their pajamas looking at the bird in the wooden cage. Lorenzo says that his friend Paquito said soon the river will be warm enough to swim in. He asks his dad to teach him to swim and also asks when could he do this? Dad only says: "We'll go." One gets the feeling that dad is hiding out in his home and can't go out.
At night Elena sews clothing for customers. Lorenzo closes the windows to make sure no one will see dad in the home. Mom tells him to set the table for dinner. Lorenzo now says that his friend Paquito says they never get to come over to his house and play. Mom turns to her husband and says that they can't have everyone talking about this. Dad says to invite Paquito and the others over to the house for a snack and some playtime.
Lalo and Elenita are still in the woods. Elenita has already given birth to her baby. She tells Lalo that she still has no milk for the baby. Lalo was trying to pull a cow over to their abandoned house, but the cow put up a struggle against being pulled into the woods. So Lalo grabs a bowl and runs out to get milk from the cow.
The senior priest leads the class of boy in the anthem of the fascists. He sees that Lorenzo is not singing and goes over to ask him, does he not know the words to the song or is he against the words of the song? Elena steps in saying that her son doesn't know all the words to the song. She asks the priest to please pardon her son. He tells Elena that he and she will have to have a little talk together. Salvador comes over and asks that he be permitted to deal with the matter, since the boy is one of his students. He also adds that the boy is a very good student. Permission granted.
Elena says her boy messed up, but it won't happen again. Salvador tells her it's not really that serious of a matter. After all, surely the young boy didn't do this out of malice. He asks her for her name and she says Elena. He sends Lorenzo to the classroom while he says that he and Elena should have a talk together about Lorenzo. She promises Salvador that her son will learn the words to "Facing the Sun". He says he's sure Lorenzo will learn the words. He adds that Lorenzo is a very bright boy, but often his mind is off into the clouds or somewhere else. Often he's there, but he isn't there. He also says that Lorenzo is indifferent to matters of patriotism. Is there a reason for that?
Seeing she is a bit uncomfortable with the subject, he quickly changes the subject saying that he can set some time aside to help her and Lorenzo. He goes on to say: "Lorenzo and you deserve it." He starts telling her about the different places they could meet where he could give her an update on her son's progress.
In class Salvador talks about original sin and why God cast Adam and Eve out of paradise. He gets himself a bit riled up.
Going home from school, Lorenzo invites a bunch of kids over to his house for a snack. The kids enjoy their visit and especially enjoy the sweet buns with milk.
Lalo cries as he fills in a grave he dug for his wife and child. He also buries her suitcase and coat.
Salvador talks to the older priest abhout his inability to get Elena out of his mind. When she walks away from him he watches the way her hips move -- they swing. He says Elena also dresses provocatively. Salvador says that he hope that these kinds of thoughts would leave him once he was out of the seminary. He refers to his sexual desires as a "nightmare" and wants to be free of them. The older priest says that it's Salvador himself that is having these sexual images rather than the women deliberately tempting him. Other than that, the priest has no real suggestions for Salvador to fight these sexual desires.
The two priests now take a walk and talk some more. The older priest says Salvador has a problem with plain, old, simple lust. Salvador must fight this devil. And yet Salvador is not sure that he can successfully conquer this devil called lust.
The next day Elena drops off her son outside the church. He asks her why and she says she has to turn in a manuscript.
Later Salvador comes looking for her. He runs into her on the street. He says it appears that they both are late. Salvador wants to show her something, but when he goes to get this something, Elena walks away from him. So Salvador asks permission from the school to go to the dentist. Permission granted. He has no real toothache. He just wants to see Elena again. Instead of fighting the problem of lust, it seems he has given himself over completely to it. He looks for her at a dress shop.
The priest walks away from where Elena is and she follows him this time. Then she stops and turns around to walk away from him.
At night Salvador rereads an essay by Lorenzo about his mother. He then looks at a book that has a half-nude woman in an illustration. He masturbates with his penis between two pillows while staring at the sexy illustration.
Some Fascist types come to Elena's house during the night. Dad has to run from their bed into his hiding place. She goes downstairs to get the door. She asks who it is and a voice says it's the police. Three policemen come inside the house. The two men in business suits start searching the entire house, while the one in uniform starts to interrogate Elena once again. He asks her if she has heard anything from that bastard husband of hers? He says they have heard that her husband is in France, in Toulouse. The bad news for Elena, he says, is that her husband is living with a whore.
The interrogator then asks Elena about the whereabouts of her daughter. He says she has run off with that communist fellow of hers. The interrogator assures Elena that they will catch the two runaways. A plain clothes policeman brings Lorenzo down stairs with his bird and bird cage. The police interrogator says his mother loves birds and says he's taking the bird for her.
The next morning Lorenzo tells his dad that he doesn't want to go to school? He says a new priest keeps asking him all kinds of questions about his father and mother and if Lorenzo has brothers and sisters. And he doesn't ask the other kids about their families. Dad is a bit worried about this. He asks his son what did he tell the priest. Lorenzod says he mainly told lies to the priest.
Elena drops Lorenzo at the entrance to the school. Salvador sees Elena looking at him. She turns and leaves. He chases after her. He says he will walk with her so they can discuss Lorenzo. He says he wants to take personal care of Lorenzo's education. After all, the boy needs a male figure in his life. He then buys an ice cream cone for himself and for Elena. He says he could get Lorenzo a scholarship. He also says that Lorenzo can study at the seminary and become a priest.
It seems that Elena is scared of offending the priest. That if she pushes him away as she should be doing, he would do something bad to her or her boy. Does she have a secret desire to be with Salvator and that's why she has not been firm with him at all? She arrives at the clothing shop, but the priest says he will wait for her. She thinks up a couple of reasons why he shouldn't wait for her. She goes into the shop. He asks the female shop owner about where is Elena going? She says Elena just does some sewing for the shop. Why doe the priest ask? He says he thought she was going to go see a man he knows who lives here. He then excuses himself and takes off.
The small boys go with a bigger boy to watch a number 4 rated movie (that is, seriously dangerous film). A couple at a time can look through the slats of a window while the bigger boy explains what's happening. Lorenzo doesn't really know much about sex, so he can't really doesn't understand the bigger boy's explanations.
At home Elena's husband Ricardo says that the new priest is going to hunt him down like a rabbit. The fellow is suspicious about something. Elena says the priest does not suspect anything about her "dead" husband. He has taken a big interest in their son, wants to get him a scholarship and help him become a priest. Ricardo says that their son is not going back to that school. Elena says such a move would really make the priest suspicious and he would come snooping around to find out what has happened. She says school will soon be out for the summer. Then next year they can find a different school for Lorenzo.
Ricardo seems to be having a bit of a nervous breakdown. He says he can't stand the thought of these men hunting him down just for the way he thinks. In addition, he is not translating any more of this damn wolfram work ". . . just so that bastard Hitler can rule Europe." And nobody's going to make a priest out of his son! He then throws a window wide open and shouts out. Elena runs over to him and takes him down to the floor with her. She starts kissing him all over his face.
Salvador sits across from the police chief. The chief knows him from the war as an officer and a damn good one. He teases Salvador about always being in the brothels. This remark makes Salvador very worried and he looks around to see if anyone else heard the remark. The chief brings out a file on Ricardo. He asks Salvador why does he want to know so much about this man? No answer. The chief looks at the file and says that Ricardo was Professor of Literature at the local high school, affiliated with the Republican Left and he disappeared in July, 1936. Now Salvador asks for any information about the wife. The chief says she has two children, Elena, born in 1922, and Lorenzo, born in 1933. Neither of the children have been baptized.
Ricardo is depressed and doesn't even leave his secret room. Elena is worried about him and says at least he must eat something. She hears the doorbell ring. Thinking it's Lorenzo she goes to the door and opens it. She, in a low cut, black slip, gets a huge surprise when she sees Salvador standing in front of her. She excuses herself to put something on. Meanwhile she tells her husband the priest is here. She closes the cover for the hole in the wall and then closes the armoire.
She goes back to see the priest. He says to her that he has found out something distressing about her and her family. The slimy bastard asks her for a liquor drink and she gives him some. He tells her that he knows that Lorenzo has a sister. Elena is shocked. She says that he does have a sister but she doesn't live with them. And neither child has been baptized. Furthermore, her daughter and her lover are both wanted by the police. And her husband was a Red, a Mason and a Republican.
The slime bucket is going to blackmail Elena into giving him what he wants: sex. He gets down on his knees and kisses her hand and touches her face. He blames all these things on her Red husband, who wouldn't even let her baptize her own children. She asks him how did he find all this information about them? He tells her not to worry for now she has him. And he will help Lorenzo become a proper Christian and help him on his way to becoming a priest. She says she will make him some coffee and he says he will pay a visit to the bathroom. She says she will show him the way to the bathroom. He walks too closely behind her, touching her arms. He whispers that he is himself a bit " . . . disoriented, like blind sunflowers, the Bible would say." He also says that he may not become a priest. Elena thought he was already a priest, but he says he's only a deacon, the final stage before becoming a priest. He adds: "Who knows? Someday I might even find somebody to have a family with."
When he goes into the bathroom, Elena walks over to the door. It seems she is thinking about throwing him out. In the bathroom the priest sees a shaving brush and a razor. He takes the razor with him and then brings it out slowly to show it to Elena. Elena, however, is a quick thinker and tells Salvador that he doesn't know much about women. They shave parts of their bodies, such as the legs. She mimics using the razor to shave her legs. The deacon goes down to his knees like he is in a trance staring awe-struck at her legs. He starts fondling her right leg and she tells him don't do that. Saved by the doorbell! She says it's Lorenzo and opens the door. The deacon kisses Lorenzo's head, says to Elena "We still need to discuss your daughter" and then leaves.
Ricardo comes out and asks what did the priest want? Elena says he's not a priest but a deacon. In bed at night Elena cries.
The next morning the family talks about the possibility of getting away to Portugal. Later Elena gives a note to the director of the school. Of course, the obsessionist looks out the window at her. He goes to asks for permission to go check on a student. The director tells him that he is always looking for some excuse to go out for a stroll. He says if Salvador doesn't concentrate on his duties, he will send him back to the seminary. He now looks at the letter from Elena. He tells Salvador that the boy in question has tonsillitis. He says: "Go back to class. You've neglected it enough as it is."
Dad and Lorenzo start packing the banished books dad has. He shows Lorenzo a book by Antonio Machado. He remarks: "He had to run away too." Elena comes in and comments: "Ferrandiz might report me."
Now the deacon rents an apartment in an apartment building. He puts on his military uniform, including his holster.
In the morning paper, dad sees a photo of Lalo and an article entitled "Death on the Portuguese frontier". Lalo is dead. Dad goes into the bathroom to read the details. Lalo was spotted by two border patrolmen on bicycles. They ordered him to halt and when he didn't, they shot him in the back. He was carrying his dead baby. His wife asks through the bathroom door if he is finished making his list of books? He says yes and he will be out of the bathroom very soon.
Elena asks Ricardo what should she tell Ferrandiz, the one who takes the translations from her? Tell him she is moving away and can't take her husband's books with her. The doorbell rings. She looks through the peep hole and sees it's that crazy deacon dressed as a soldier.
She tells the fellows to go hide somewhere. She is foolishly going to open the door to the mad man. And when he the door is open he pushes his way in yelling and manhandling her. He now starts kissing her and this time she responds by kissing him. He says he is going to marry her. She says he can't and runs away to her bedroom. The crazed fellow goes with her and forces the door open and jumps on top of her on the bed. She keeps saying no, no. Finally her husband comes out. He hits the husband knocking him to the ground. Then the son rushes in yelling at the deacon. Now Salvador asks the boy who is this man? The boys yells that it's his father, you son of a bitch!
Salvador rushes out, opens the windows and shouts out for people to call the police for there is a Red living here. He leaves the apartment still shouting for the police! And now the depressed Ricardo throws himself out of the window, killing himself. Elena cries and sobs.
Elena and her son take a bus ride to her hometown. Her Aunt is there to welcome her home. They walk to her house.
Meanwhile, the murderer speaks with the older priest blaming all this on Elena. He says she deceived him. "She acted weak to allure me and she hooked me like a trout." The priest asks the crazy man what did Elena want from him? Salvador says who knows? The priest asks Salvador if he shares any of the blame for what happened? Salvador says he should have figured it out himself. He then says he is leaving the seminary and won't become a priest. The murderer is just disgusting. He even tries to blame the suicide on Ricardo saying that he did this so he could blame him (Salvador) for forcing him to his death. The priest tells him that his punishment will be to say his breviary on his knees for the next three years.
The deacon now goes to the church to pray.
What was it like living in Franco's Spain? What's it like living under fascism? This film gives you a better idea of what it's like living in fear. If you were a radical or a Red or maybe just a very active liberal, you could be hunted down by the police, the secret service or just someone that wants to extort money from people living in fear of being caught and executed. A deacon (the last stage before becoming a priest) becomes obsessed with a pretty woman named Elena. She and her entire live in fear that someone will find out that her husband is living in the house with his family and will turn the whole family over to the authorities. And there is always suspicion that even friends might find out accidentally or by snooping around too much out of curiosity. The family gets in a terrible situation when the sadistic deacon exploits Elena's unknown reasons for not telling the sadist to leave her and her family alone and go to hell. She was always not firm enough with the deacon. (He's the type that has no ability to understand cues and signals that indicate someone is deliberately trying to stay away from him.) The tension is hard enough for wife and children to deal with the deacon, but it's even worse for the husband since he has to stay in a small, hidden room. He starts becoming permanently depressed. He can't stand being hunted down just because of the way he thinks and writes. Surprise ending. The film is good with lots of tension and drama. Good film.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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