Pájaros  de papel (Paper Birds) (2010)




Director:     Emilio Aragón.

Starring:     Imanol Arias (Jorge del Pino),  Lluís Homar (Enrique Corgo),  Roger Príncep (Miguel),  Carmen Machi (Rocío Moliner),  Fernando Cayo (Capitán Montero),  Diego Martín (Quiroga),  Oriol Vila (Pastor),  Luis Varela (Arturo),  José Ángel Egido (Don Ricardo),  Javier Coll (Pedro Ostense),  Concha Hidalgo (Amparo),  Ana Cuesta (Merceditas),  Pedro Civera (Herrera),  Francisco Merino (Luciano),  Lola Baldrich (María).

lives of a comic and an artistic group in the hard times after the end of the Spanish Civil War


Spoiler warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Father and son run to the school gate and the fellow waiting there tells the father that Mr. del Pino is late again.  Jorge apologizes and says he works nights.   

Jorge goes into a tavern.  An air-raid siren goes off and Paco the waiter tells Jorge and the man he is conversing with (his partner Enrique) that the siren has sounded.  Later in the day in a music shop Jorge examines and accordion, while his friend Enrique examines a guitar. 

At night Jorge tells his son Rafa to go to sleep.  Rafa objects to this saying that there's a war going on in Spain. 

Jorge is a performer at a vaudeville theater.  He is waiting to go on stage, so he calls home.  He tells Rafa that he has to do his homework even if they are at war.  Then he talks to his wife.  While he talks with his wife about money problems, the telephone cuts out on him.  Jorge goes on stage with his friend and partner to sing a series of jokester melodies. 

Jorge and his friend get off the bus.  They both agree they need to practice their act some more.  The air raid siren goes off again.  Jorge goes down into the subway.  Everyone finds someplace to sit.  Bomb explosions are heard going off on the streets of the city. 

Jorge hurries home, but when he opens the door he sees that much of the building has been destroyed.   He rushes up the stairs and into his apartment shouting for Maria.  He sees her laying under a pile of rubble.  Only one hand sticks out from the rubble.  He calls for Rafa, but there is no response. 

Madrid, one year later.  Enrique comes into the tavern.  The bar tender and Enrique touch fingers lightly.  Enrique is a homosexual.  The vaudeville boss is there and he tells the people in the tavern that he is looking for a large variety of performers.  Various people try to get him to hire them.  A girl named Merceditas says she can sing, but the boss says she's too young.  A young boy named Miguel Puertas Maldonado tries to do a magic trick for the boss but messes it up.  Jorge comes into the tavern.  Enrique sees him and they come together in a big embrace.  The boss comes over and remarks that Jorge has come back.  There will be a rehearsal that the two men must attend.  The boy sits down next to Enrique.  Enrique wants to help the lad who has now been orphaned.  He thinks maybe they could include him in the act with Jorge.  Jorge worries that kids always still the show from the adults. 

The colonel hears reports from the men of his intelligence network.  One man reports that del Pino is back in Madrid.  This is of great interest to some of the men. 

The man who was taking care of the young boy Miguel starts roughing up the boy that he hasn't seen for days.  Jorge and Enrique come to the rescue.  Jorge gets the boy's paper from the man and then tells the brutal fellow to get lost. 

Jorge forges the boy's papers so that now he's in the custody of Enrique. 

Miguel and Jorge visit the music shop.  Jorge gets the accordion and Miguel tries to play it.  They walk on the streets of Madrid and see Merceditas street dancing for tip money.  Jorge says this type of work isn't for her.  He wants her to to come by the theater next Monday.  She will be there.  The guys stole some vegetables for dinner as they walked along the market streets.  They go home to prepare something to eat and the landlady comes in complaining that this having three people in a room where only one rent is paid has to stop.  She says she will give them just one more night and then they are out!  Miquel grabs onto her pleading with her for help.  The landlady relents and says he can stay.  She even takes the boy with her to give him something better to eat. 

One of the colonel's staff tells an officer that the colonel wants him to worm his way into Jorge's life so he can learn about what the man is up to.  The fellow, Lt. Pastor, gets a job working back stage in the theater. 

The authorities keep popping into the theater to check people's papers.  They take Pastor, Jorge, Enrique and two other workers down to the basement.  Captain Montero checks everybody's papers and then he says that the last guy on the end has been consorting with the enemies of the regime.  He has Lieutenant Quiroga take the man away.  He then lets the others go. 

Enrique asks Jorge why are they always harassing them?  Why do they ask them so many questions?  He tells Jorge that it's time to leave the country and go to South America or Cuba.  Jorge says that Enrique is just scared, that's all.  Enrique says yes, but so what?  Neither of them have any roots in Spain now and they can easily go someplace safer. 

Walking in the streets Jorge meets an old friend who has a stall for a shop.  They talk for awhile.  Meanwhile, Manuel goes in back of the stall and starts putting rice in his pockets.  When he comes out his crime is discovered as the rice runs out of his pockets and down his legs to his shoes and then the ground. A little later Jorge warns Manuel that he is never to steal again.  He roughs up the kid two times, but Manuel keeps following him. 

Pastor watches as Pedro speaks to Jorge.  Both had ties to the republican forces during the Civil War and some former soldiers are still active against the Franco regime.  Pastor keeps a close eye on Pedro and Jorge.  Jorge tells Pedro to quit asking if he knows anything about a planned action against the Franco regime.  Pedro says Father Gabriel sends his greetings and this note.  Jorge reads it and then puts it in his pocket. 

The theater boss says he owes a favor to a local mayor.  He wants Jorge to pretend he is the boss.  He is to take part of the theater company and go to the town and put on some shows for the townspeople.  The boss wants Jorge to act like a real big shot.  Now he gives Jorge some of the money he owed him.  Jorge, in turn, gives some of the money to the singer and dancer Rocio. 

The three guys rehearse their performances. 

The troupe is transported in the back of a big wagon.  Jorge parodies Franco.  Pastor takes note of that. 

At the theater, Pastor sees Lt. Quiroga and asks him if the captain sent him?  He says yes. 

The mayor gives a little speech before the performances begin.  His kids, however, misbehave and get him so riled up that he forgets what he was going to say.  He sits down to some polite applause. 

An old man who rides a unicycle has misplaced his glasses and says he can't go onstage without them.  They force him to perform and he goes over the edge of the stage.  Jorge comes out and makes the mistake just look like it is just part of the act.  He and his two partners then come out and begin the act.  After the performance Rocio wows the impressed mayor by singing more songs for the troupe and the influential men of the town.  Singing her song, she pays attention only to the mayor. 

Lt. Quiroga flirts with Merceditas and Jorge goes over to tell him that the girl is too young for him.  The lieutenant says that according to her papers (forged), she is of adult age.  The mayor calls for Jorge to play a special tune on his accordion, but Jorge says it's time for the troupe to go to bed.  The troupe leaves, but Rocio has a drink with the mayor. 

Jorge made an anti-Franco remark and now Enrique asks him if he is trying to commit suicide?  Jorge talks back to Enrique, who now says that Jorge is always being on the defensive.  He asks:  "Haven't you suffered enough already?"  As they walk along someone rushes up to Jorge to tell him that they have been robbed! 

Jorge and the troupe confront the mayor saying that not only have the box office earnings disappeared, but so too have the trained dogs, the trunks, tools, clothing, indeed, all of it. With a little coaxing from Rocio, the mayor agrees to let them sleep in the theater and they all will get their meals.  He will also speak to his personal friend the mayor of the town nearby and get him to agree to host a performance of the show in his town. 

At the theater a newsreel is shown with film of the dictator Franco.  People start making anti-Franco remarks and jokes.  Pastor says to one man that he should be cautious of what he says about Franco.   Miguel says that one of the women in the newsreel is his mother.  Enrique says he thought Miguel had told them that he was an orphan.  Miguel says that's what he thought too, but that's his mother up there on the screen.  Pastor knows now that Manuel's parents never signed a permission form to allow Manuel to work in the theater. 

Jorge arranges for the part of the newsreel containing the film of Miguel's supposed mother to be played over again.  Miguel is even surer now that the woman on the screen is his mother.  Pastor goes back to Madrid. 

Franco will be going to Caceres in four days where he will meet with a group of high-ranking officers.  Captain Montero asks Pastor if the vaudeville troupe can be trusted to perform for Franco?  Pastor says the only trouble is that these performer types make a great many anti-Franco remarks.  He says the guy in the troupe that he really doesn't like is Pedro, one of the stagehands.  The stagehand is constantly whispering to members of the troupe.  Pastor recommends that someone should tail Pedro.  The captain, however, is more concerned that the entertainment be good so that it makes the captain and his team look good in the eyes of the bigwigs.  The authorities keep checking the papers of the troupe.  Enrique tells Jorge again that they should leave Spain.  He says there's no future here.  He suggests they all go to Buenos Aires, because he has heard good things about that city.  Jorge doesn't want to leave.  He says Engrique can go alone.  Lt. Quiroga comes in and tells Jorge that they will be performing for Franco and the military will provide the transportation. 

Merceditas dances for the military.  Jorge comes out and tells anti-Franco jokes.  He sings a song about how tough life is living under Franco.  That performance gets no applause from the military audience. 

Captain Montero speaks with Jorge after the show.  The captain tells him just to stick to his regular comedy routines and he guarantees Jorge that no one will bother him.  Jorge says then call off Lt. Quiroga, the Falangist, who keeps harassing them.  Captain Montero says he will see Jorge back in Caceres.  Jorge starts to leave, but Montero calls him back and gives him a piece of paper saying that if they are looking for Manuel's mother, this is the place to go.  Quiroga tells Montero he still has a few more questions for Enrique.  Montero calls him over to the car and tells Quiroga to make sure there are just a few questions. 

When Enrique gets back, Jorge sees that has beaten him up.  He hugs Enrique, who cries on his shoulder.  

The next morning Enrique tells Jorge about what happened to him.  Jorge is taking a truck ride over to handle a personal matter.  Pastor wants to go along and Jorge gives in to him.  As Jorge drives down the road, he sees a military car driven by Quiroga's driver with Quiroga and Merceditas in the back seat.  He keeps looking so long that he almost hits a young boy chasing a ball into the street. 

The two men go to a hospital that care for dying nuns as well as other dying patients.  The nun in charge recognizes the photo of Miguel's mother and she takes Jorge and Pastor over to see her.  Jorge tells her something about her son, but all she does is mention of the name of her husband, who was killed near the end of the civil war.  He starts to leave, but turns back just to tell her about her boy and how he is doing.  He says he is going to make a great performer and will live up to any expectations that his mother ever had for him.  He also says that they will take good care of her boy.

Quiroga drops Merceditas off.  She looks like she's been put through a horrible experience. Jorge puts his coat over her shoulders.

Pastor hears Pedro talking to Jorge about getting rid of Franco.  Later he goes to tell Jorge that he is worried about something.  Jorge basically says why can't he just live him alone for five minutes of peace so he can get his act together?  Pastor leaves.  He goes to see Montero, but Montero is too concerned with talking with the bigwigs to pay any attention to Pastor.  Franco arrives and walks up the main aisle. 

Pastor follows the colonel into the bathroom.   The colonel congratulates him on his idea of the company meeting Franco, but Pastor tells him it wasn't his idea.  He doesn't even think it's safe for the company to be entertaining Franco.  The colonel says he read Pastor's reports, but Pastor tells him he has never written a report for Captain Medero.  The colonel asks Pastor what is he saying, but Pastor is running out the door already. 

Pedro comes into Jorge's room with a gun.  He plans to assassinate Franco.  Jorge doesn't like the idea.  Captain Medero steps into the room and he asks Pedro if Jorge is with them?  Pedro says he is with them.  Pastor comes in and starts to say something to the captain, but Pedro knocks him out with a chair to the back of his head. Jorge leaves the room and tells Enrique, Merceditas and Manuel that they have go leave this place now.  He carries Manuel out into the street.  He tells an inquisitive driver that he has to get the boy to a doctor quickly because he will be going on stage later.  The soldier starts driving Jorge and his family to the hospital, but when he hears shots fired and sees the soldiers rushing into the theater, he thinks something is amiss.  Jorge smashes the guys head into the steering wheel several times and then pushes him out the door. 

Jorge drives on.  When they start to run into other cars, Jorge pulls off the road and hides the car under tree branches.  He also knocks out a nearby street light.  Jorge takes the family to a tavern where he can get help.  He tells the bartender that Father Gabriel sent him.  The family is put in a truck and taken to a safe place.  There they meet Father Gabriel.  Another driver will take them to the railway station in Badajoz where they can cross into Portugal.  The train is the safest way to go.  The collaborators are fixing up four passports for them.  Their ship will set off for Buenos Aires on Thursday.  Enrique is glad when he hears those last words.

Miguel tells Jorge that he is not leaving Spain without his mother.  Jorge tells him that the people one loves are always with them.  Manuel asks:  "Are Maria and Rafa always with you?"  "Always."  The boy then asks if he is with Jorge always?  Always. Miguel hugs Jorge and calls him papa.  He adds that Father Gabriel told him to call Jorge papa.  This touches Jorge's heart. 

The family gets in the back of a truck and away they go.  They get on the train and sit separately from each other.  And here comes Quiroga and the police. Pastor is with them.  They tell Jorge to stop.  Jorge turns around and tells Pastor that he knows that he (Jorge) had nothing to do with any assassination attempt.  The train starts pulling out.   Quiroga starts taunting Jorge and Jorge knocks him down and starts running to the train.  Pastor pulls out his pistol to shoot Jorge, but can't or won't pull the trigger.  Quiroga pulls out his pistol and shoots Jorge in the back.  Jorge's last words are:  "Goodbye, son." 

Many years later.  As an old man Miguel has returned to a free Spain now.  Miguel is receiving some type of award. He dedicates a song he will sing to his parents, Enrique Corgo and Jorge del Pino.  It was Jorge who taught him the song.  He sings the protest song against Franco.  He feels as though his parents and he as a young boy are there singing along with him. 


If it's a film about the Spanish Civil War you know that it is not going to have a happy ending.  Some endings can be where almost all the main republican figures are wiped out.  Or it can be several republican figures who lose their lives.  Or maybe it's just going to be one republican figure that gets killed.  But along the way you can be sure that there will be very definite victims of Spanish fascism.  This particular film is no different.  A vaudeville troupe of performers. have to  be very careful about what they say in their acts for fear of offending Franco and/or other Spanish fascists.  This avoidance of criticizing the fascist dictatorship in Spain is virtually impossible for some republicans.  And that, of course, gets them and often their family and friends in hot water.  That's what is the case for Jorge, a comedic performer and singer.  He just can't follow the censorship line of fascism. And it does get him into very hot water.  He gets away with it for awhile, but usually the Spanish version of the Gestapo finally swoops down and punishes those who believe in freedom and liberty. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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