Soldados de Salamina (The Soldiers of Salamis) (2003)

 

 

Director:    David Trueba.

Starrring:   Ariadna Gil (Lola), Ramon FontserP (Rafael Snchez Mazas), Joan Dalmau (Miralles), Mara Botto (Conchi), Diego Luna (Gastn), Alberto Ferreiro (Joven miliciano), Luis Cuenca (Padre de Lola), Llus Villanueva (Miquel Aguirre), Julio Manrique (Pere Figueras), Ivan Massagu (Quim Figueras, 20 aZos), Bruno Bergonzini (Daniel Angelats, 20 aZos), Joaqun Notario (Capitn Collell), Merche Mar (Luz), Eric Caravaca (Camarero Dijon), Vahina Giocante (Asistente Social Dijon).

Based on the book by Javier Cercas.

The film was nominated for eight Goya Awards in 2004.  It won for Best Cinematography.

No English subtitles or any other subtitles. 

 

A novelist (Gil) has abandoned her writing career to track down the events from the last days of the Spanish Civil War. Rafael Snchez Mazas (Fontser), a writer and Falangist, managed to escape a firing squad in which 49 other prisoners were shot.  He is discovered by a Republican soldier, who then lets him escape. The novelist finds the pieces of the puzzle are often contradictory along with characters that are a bit mysterious. 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Scenes of the massacre of about 50 fascist sympathizers killed by Republican forces during the Spanish-Civil War (1936-1939).

Writer Lola Cercas sits at her computer looking very bored and/or suffering from writer's block.  As a professor, she teaches a course on literature to students.  She also looks bored with this activity.  Going up the stairs she passes one of her students, Gastn.  She drops her books and the student helps her pick them up.  Gastn watches as she continues walking up the stairs.  

Via her computer, Lola talks to her editor.  He gives her an assignment dealing with the Spanish Civil War.  She is not enthusiastic about this project either, but she does go to the library to gather a lot of books on the subject. 

Lola goes to the hospital to speak with her father, a patient there.  She sees a woman known as Conchi telling her father his fortune with her fortune cards.  Lola makes her presence known.  She is not happy about the fortune telling and in private she tells that to Conchi.  Conchi is perturbed by this and she leaves. 

Lola reads out loud to her father a short article she wrote that was just published.  It deals with the famous older Spanish poet Antonio Machado (along with his poet brother Manuel) and the fascist poet Rafael Snchez Mazas both alive during the Spanish Civil War.  Machado had to flee Barcelona into France to escape Franco's forces closing in on Barcelona.  Rafael Snchez Mazas, on the other hand, was a close associate and adviser of the founder of the Spanish fascist party, Jos Antonio Primo de Rivera.  Snchez Mazas would have been killed in the Republican massacre of 50 fascists prisoners, but he escaped.  The soldier who found the escapee chose not to take him into custody, thereby saving his life. 

Because of her article, she receives letters from various readers commenting on her subject.  One letter says there were others who escaped the massacre of the fascists.  She makes an appointment to meet one of the letter writers.  He shows her a book entitled "I was Killed by the Reds".  It was published in 1981.  For the first time, Lola learns about the Friends of the Forest.  Three fellows from that group helped Snchez Mazas escape.  The letter writer gives her the telephone number of one of the three Friends of the Forest who helped Snchez Mazas.  At home she reads a book about Snchez Mazas.  Flashback short scene about Snchez Mazas being held prisoner on the ship Uruguay.  (This actually happened a few years later than the massacre incident.) 

Lola's phone rings, waking her from her sleep at her computer.  Her father has died.  She goes to the hospital to pack her father's things.  As she leaves the hospital, she sees Conchi still telling elderly patients their future.  At home Lola makes a call for an appointment to see one of the three Friends of the Forest.

At a book store Lola looks over books by Snchez Mazas.  While there she sees Conchi again.  She is dressed in a mini-skirt and attracting some attention.  Lola looks at her while hiding behind an open book held over her lower face.  Lola goes to a library to look at some books by Snchez Mazas.  She also reads old newspaper articles about the man. 

Lola passes an acquaintance named Carlos. This obviously upsets her, so he must have been very important in her life at one time.  She says she is in a hurry and leaves.  She looks very sad walking by a waterfall in the city. 

Lola is on a train with a huge suitcase.  Conchi appears on the train.  She helps Lola lift the suitcase onto the overhead rack.  They sit together.  Lola is still skeptical about fortune telling, so Conchi says that Lola doesn't really believe in anything.  She adds that it is the typical intellectual reaction.  At home Lola opens the suitcase which is filled with lots of books written by Snchez Mazas. 

Lola has another appointment, but the fellow (the son of Snchez Mazas), does not show.  She goes out with Conchi.  Conchi has Lola autograph the book she wrote.  Then they go to Lola's apartment.  Conchi tries to seduce Lola.  When she tries to kiss Lola, Lola leans back to avoid Conchi.  The telephone rings and Lola answers it.  As she sets up the missed interview once again, Conchi leaves disgusted. 

Lola interviews a son of Snchez Mazas.  His Uncle Quim, the son of his father's brother, is still alive and he suggests that she talk to him.  He is the son of one of the three Friends of the Forest who helped Snchez Mazas.  And Quim knows one of the other Friends of the Forest, Daniel Angelats.  (The other of the three Friends of the Forest was Pedro Figueras.)  Then the son of Snchez Mazas shows Lola a diary that Snchez Mazas wrote during his time in the forest.  Lola reads the diary at home.  She sees the names of the three Friends of the Forest in the diary:  Pedro Figueras; Joaquin Figueras; and Daniel Angelats. 

On another day the son takes Lola to see his Uncle Quim.  The uncle talks about the hard times they experienced.  They put everyone in jail and among those imprisoned was his brother Poro.  Quim says that his father went to Burgos and asked for an appointment to see government minister Snchez Mazas.  Snchez Mazas met with him and told him he did not have to worry.  His son would be safe.  And that was the case. 

Lola speaks with her first interviewee.  They look at the order to let the son of Pedro Figueras go. 

Lola speaks with another man: Daniel Angelats. He is happy that they met Snchez Mazas, because he helped them. 

Lola starts to write about the background to the massacre.  She has the TV on, but without sound.  She suddenly sees Conchi on the TV.  She is advertising her fortune telling services.  Lola decides to call the number anonymously and speak with Conchi.  Conchi takes the call and wants to know what the problem is.  The problem deals with the subject of problems with a friend.  She wants to discuss how to find out if her friend is mad at her.  At the end Conchi knows it is Lola and starts smiling  indicating that she was no longer upset with Lola. 

Some old newsreels talk about the prison ship Uruguay on which Snchez Mazas was held.  From the ship one could see the city of Montjuic where the condemned were taken to be executed by firing squad.

Flashback.  A prison guard on the ship Uruguay calls for Snchez Mazas.  He is taken outside and placed on a bus.  

Lola keeps working on what now seems to be a book.

Flashback.  The people who flee to the border to get into France see Snchez Mazas's bus and start banging on the sides.  They shout insults, such as "Enchufados!".  (According to the Wiktionary: a person who obtained his/her job by influence or recommendation, not by merit.)  Three planes bomb and strafe the refugees.  The front window of the bus is shattered. 

Lola borrows a car from one of her friends.  She drives to Santuari de Sta. Maria de Collell.  Along the way she sees a group of hunters with their hunting dogs.  There is a short flashback of the bus carrying Snchez Mazas and the other prisoners arriving at the Sanctuary of Saint Mary of Collell.  One of the prisoners, probably a priest, blesses the men.  The prisoners are forced to walk along a dirt path.  (Lola walks down the same path, which is now an asphalt road.)  Snchez Mazas sees the soldier that later will spare his life.  (Lola stops an old man on a motor scooter and asks him about the location of a memorial to those who were massacred.  The man indicates it is in the woods down a path.  He will show her.)  The guards stop the about 50 prisoners in the woods.  (The old man shows Lola the monument.  It says "Fallen for God and Fatherland."  It was erected January 30, 1939 by the Brotherhood of  Spanish Captives of Gerona.  Lola sits and imagines what the massacre might have been like.)  The men are stopped in a clearing in the woods.  Suddenly the order is given to fire and the machine guns mow down the prisoners.  Snchez Mazas runs away and escapes.  The Republican soldiers look for him.  The fellow that Snchez Mazas had noticed before along the walk finds Snchez Mazas and chambers a round in his rifle.  But he does not fire.  Someone shouts asking if there is anybody down there.  The soldier answers:  "There is no one here!"   (Lola drives home in the dark.)  Snchez Mazas hides under what looks like an old Roman aqueduct.  He cries.  (Lola submerges herself in the bathtub at home.)

On a wall map of Spain Lola draws the rough line of march of Snchez Mazas.  She draws the line from Sta. Maria del Collell, passing south of the larger town of Banyoles, to Palol de Revardit (located southeast of Banyoles).  Scenes of Lola working at the computer are mixed with scenes of Snchez Mazas struggling along through the forest.  Lola suddenly seems to be having a panic attack.  She takes a pill and slowly falls to the floor to rest. 

Conchi shows up at Lola's classroom.  They talk together.  Lola denies Conchi's claim that she is writing a novel about the Spanish Civil War.  

Newsreel scenes from Catalan of Franco artillery firing while Franco, with high-powered binoculars on a stand, watches the results.  The newsreel narrator says that the forces of Franco have "freed" 30 towns and had captured thousands of Republican soldiers and sympathizers. 

Lola types.  Flashback to Snchez Mazas losing his glasses in a stream in the forest.  Lola talks together with the three men associated with the Friends of the Forest that she interviewed earlier.  The men tell her that they were resting and heard a noise.  They take out their pistols in those perilous times and went to see what is going on.  They find and confront Snchez Mazas.  Snchez Mazas tells them that he has no money but that they will be compensated for their assistance.  The three demand to know who he is.  He refuses to tell them.  Snchez Mazas wants to know the identity of the three men.  After a half hour of back and forth Snchez Mazas finally gives them his name.  The men are pleased.  They now feel as though they have a "safe conduct pass".  The men help the escapee until the arrival of the Franco forces.  The three claim that Snchez Mazas said he would help them for their efforts on his behalf. 

Lola sits writing.  There is a flashback to Snchez Mazas speaking with one of the three Friends of the Forest about behind held captive and getting away.  He remembers the soldier who saved him.  He remembers how once the young soldier sang and danced in the rain to the applause of the soldiers and some of the prisoners.  No, Snchez Mazas does not know the name of the soldier.  But as the young soldier started to leave, he looked happy. 

A newsreel talks about the fall of Gerona to the forces of Franco.  We see the Spanish residents standing and giving the fascist salute with the right arm stretched out and up at a 45 degree angle.  (Pretty disgusting from a modern perspective.  PLC) 

Flashback.  The three Friends of the Forest deliver Snchez Mazas to the Franco forces. 

Flashback.  Snchez Mazas speaks to a group of Francoists.  He is interviewed about his capture and escape. 

Lola writes that there is a street in Bibao named after Snchez Mazas.

Lola lets Conchi read what she has written.  Conchi tells her that it is good.  Only good?  Very good, says Conchi.  But there is no emotion, no passion in it.  It doesn't grab her emotionally in the gut.  There is nothing of Lola in it.  Lola is upset at Conchi's criticism.  She starts tossing books to Conchi, one after the other in rapid succession.  Conchi knocks them down with her hands and smiles at Lola's rant.  Then all of a sudden Lola stops and says that her work is worse than the novels she threw at Conchi.  She tells Conchi that she is right.  She then throws the manuscript in the trash.  Conchi tries to cheer her up by telling her to feel free to express herself in her writing. 

In the classroom Lola asks her students to write about what is a hero.  She reads over the complete essays.  She carefully reads the one by Gastn,  He says he met a hero while he was doing summer work at a camp ground called Estrella de Mar (Sea Star).  He talked to a guy whose body was covered with scars.  The fellow fought in many different battles.  Later he crossed into France.  He lives in a refugee camp under harsh conditions.  Then Gastn reviews briefly the major events of World War II. 

At school Gastn meets with Lola and shows her some film from the summer at Estrella de Mar.  The hero's name he wrote about is Antonio Miralles.  There is a scene in the movie with Miralles dancing with the local prostitute.  Lola wants to meet this man and talk to him.  She goes to the summer camp place.  She sees a truck driver leaving one of the small trailers and figures it is probably the home of the prostitute.  She knocks on the door of the trailer.  She asks the woman for the address of Miralles.  She refuses.  But a little later she relents and gives her a postcard she received from Miralles from Dijon, France.  With this information, Lola calls in an attempt to find Moralles.  There are, however, five Moralles in the Dijon phone directory.  Lola has to make five separate calls to ask for the 5 numbers.  But all five of the numbers lead nowhere. 

One day Gastn shows up at her office to see her.  They talk for a little while.  As she is leaving the office, she and Gastn kiss several times before she breaks it off.

Conchi comes over to Lola's place.  She slaps Lola on her butt.  She then gives Lola a gift off the internet.  A list of phone numbers of elderly men of 80 years of age and up listed in alphabetical order in Dijon.  Lola is very excited by the gift. Later she finally gets Miralles on the phone.  She mentions Gastn as her referent.   But Miralles is not very cooperative.  He is still a bit bitter over the war.  He hangs up on Lola.  But Lola is not going to give up.

Lola takes a car ride with Conchi.  She is a bit too sarcastic in her attitude toward Conchi, so Conchi stops the car and tells Lola to get out.  Lola remains seated.  Conchi gets out, walks around to the passenger door side, opens the door and demands that Lola get out.  Lola gets out.  Conchi is still mad at her, but before she leaves she gives Lola a long kiss.  As she drives away, Lola says quietly:  "Pardon me." 

Lola takes a long distance ride on a bus.  She traces part of the ride on the map:  north from Gerona, Spain; across the Spain/France border; through Perpignan, Montpellier, Nimes and Lyons; and finally to Dijon. 

In Dijon she goes to an old folks home called Residence Nimpheas.  She finds Miralles watching television.  He tells her that she is a little late.  They spend time talking about personal matters.  He has no family left.  He asks her if she likes children.  Yes, is the answer, but she has none.  He asks for a cigarette.  She asks him about the events around the massacre in the woods.  At this time he is called to go to lunch.  She agrees to meet him again in the afternoon. 

Lola walks downtown.  She goes into a cafe to have something to drink.  The young waiter is also Spanish and he even knows Miralles.  He wants her to see something.  He stands of the table and then helps Lola up.  He points to an old framed photograph of a group of soldiers posing on a tank for a group photo.  He points out Miralles in the photo.  Miralles is standing next to the waiter's father.  She goes back to speak with Miralles.  She tells him that Snchez Mazas survived the massacre in the woods partly thanks to a young soldier.  Miralles is a little cynical about her.  He says writers are always looking for heroes.  But he says he is no hero.  He adds:  "Heroes don't survive."  He then reminisces about his comrades.  Miralles says:  "Everyone is dead."  They were so young.  A day doesn't pass that he doesn't think of them.  He then lists a number of the names of his old companions. 

Miralles knows that Lola was thinking he was the soldier who spared the life of Snchez Mazas.  He says to Lola:  "You want to find the soldier who saved Snchez Mazas."  Why?  Lola says the soldier is special precisely because he did not kill  Snchez Mazas.  After all, soldiers are trained to kill.  Miralles wants Lola to come back to see him.  She says she will.  Next time she will bring more tobacco and some music. 

Miralles walks her to her taxi.  He gives her a big hug.  She is driven away to her bus.  As she leaves she remains staring out the back window looking at Miralles and acting like she is talking to him.  She was touched by the talk about his fondness for his comrades in arms. She speaks to him and even lists some of the names of her friends to him, including Conchi. 

 

Very good movie.  But it was hard for me to understand.  Mainly because there were no subtitles and they were speaking Castillian Spanish.  And I did not know anything about the main characters dealt with in the movie:  the fascist writer Rafael Snchez Mazas and the poet Antonio Machado.   Nor did I know about  Jos Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Spanish fascist party and the man who Snchez Maza worked with.  So I had to look up the pertinent histories in Wikipedia.  Interesting stuff (see below).   I also read the few reviews/plot summaries of the film.  These sources helped me understand what was being discussed.  I had a real hard time with the Spanish and missed a lot of the subtleties.  But the main events are in the summary of the movie. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 


Historical Background: 

 

1875 (July 26) -- birth of future poet Antonio Machado in Seville, Spain.  He was a leading figure of the Spanish literary movement "Generation of '98".  Generacin del 98  was a group of  novelists, poets, essayists and philosophers active in Spain at the time of the Spanish-American War.  Antonio's brother Manuel was born one year earlier. 

1883  --  the Machado family moved to Madrid.  Both brothers enrolled in the Institucin Libre de EnseZanza.

1894 -- birth of future fascist writer Rafael Snchez Mazas in Madrid, Spain.  Much later Snchez Mazas received a law degree.

1898  --  Spanish-American War between Spain and the USA. 

1899  --  Antonio Machado traveled with his brother to Paris.  There they worked as translators for a French publisher. In Paris Antonio met the French Symbolist poets:  Jean Moras, Paul Fort and Paul Verlaine.  He also met contemporary literary figures, including Rubn Daro and Oscar Wilde.

1901  --  Antonio Machado published his first poems.

1903 (April 24) in Madrid birth of future fascist leader Jos Antonio Primo de Rivera, the oldest son of General Miguel Primo de Rivera, prime minister and dictator during the reign of King Alfonso XIII of Spain from 1923 until 1930.

1903  --  Antonio Machado published his first book of poetry under the title Soledades.

1903-1907  --  Machado gradually amended his collection of poem. 

1907 --  Machado published the definitive collection with the title Soledades. Galeras.

1909  --  34-year old Machado married 15 year old Leonor Izquierdo, daughter of the owners of the boarding house Machado was staying in.

1912  --  Leonor Machado died of tuberculosis, just a few weeks after the publication of Campos de Castilla. A devastated Machado left Soria and went to live in Baeza, Andalucia.  (He stayed there until 1919.)

1915 -- Snchez Mazas published PequeZas memorias de Tarn. He also wrote in the magazine Hermes and the newspapers ABC, El Sol and El Pueblo Vasco.

1919-1931 --  between these years Machado was Professor of French in Segovia. He moved to be nearer to his brother Manuel who lived in Madrid.

1921 --  Snchez Mazashe was a correspondent in Morocco for El Pueblo Vasco.

1922  --  Snchez Mazas was a correspondent in Rome for ABC.

1922-1929  --  Snchez Mazas lived in Italy for seven years.  He married Liliana Ferlosio. He came to be a fan of the fascist movement in Italy. 

1929  --  Snchez Mazas returned to Spain.  He became an advisor for Jos Antonio Primo de Rivera, the main ideologist of the Falange.

1932  --  Antonio Machado became a professor at the "Instituto Caldern de la Barca" in Madrid.

1933  --  Snchez Mazas helped found the weekly newspaper El Fascio.  It was banned by the authorities after its second issue.

1933 (October 29)  --  Jos Antonio Primo de Rivera founded Falange EspaZola ("Spanish Phalanx"), a nationalist party inspired by the Fascist ideology. Snchez Mazas was appointed a member of the Council.

1934 the Spanish Phalanx party merged with Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista, forming the Falange EspaZola de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista under the leadership of Primo de Rivera.

1934 (February)  --  Snchez Mazas wrote Oracin por los muertos de Falange

1934  --  Snchez Mazas wrote Oracin por los muertos de Falange.  He also co-wrote Cara al Sol, the anthem of Falange EspaZola.

1936  --  the Falange was outlawed.

1936 (March)  --  Snchez Mazas arrested and imprisoned in Madrid. He was given a short leave on the birth of his fourth son and never returned to prison.  He gained political asylum at the Chilean Embassy in Madrid.

1936 in the general election, Falange won only 0.7% of the votes.

With the victory of the Popular Front (a coalition of various left-wing political organizations such as communists and socialists with liberal republicans like the Radicals), the fascist party grew rapidly.

1936 (July) the Spanish fascist party had more than 40,000 members.

1936 (July) Primo de Rivera supported the military uprising against the left-wing republican government that began the Spanish Civil War.  The war separate Antonio Machado from his brother Manuel who was trapped in the Nationalist (Francoist) zone

During the war the Falange became the dominant political movement of the Spanish National-syndicalists (the right-wing umbrella opposition against Popular Front government of the Republic).

1936 (July 6) Primo de Rivera captured. He was held in captivity in Alicante until tried by a Popular Front of communists and anarchists. Later he was sentenced to death.

1936 (November 20) Primo de Rivera executed.  (The fascists made him into a martyr.  During the Francoist rgime, there was a plate on the outer wall of every parish, naming local soldiers and civilians killed by the republicans during the war, Cados por Dios y por Espaa, "Fallen for God and Spain".  Primo de Rivera's name was the first on every plate.)

1937 (November)  --  attempting to flee Spain, Snchez Mazas is arrested in Barcelona.  He is held in the prison-ship Uruguay.

1939 (January 24)  --  with about 50 other inmates, Snchez Mazas was taken to the Monastery of Santa Mara del Collel in Girona (Northern Catalonia).

1939 (January 30)  --  the guards of the 50 inmates were executed when the guards open fire on the prisoners.  Snchez Mazas managed to escape into the surrounding forest. A manhunt began for the escapee.  A soldier found him hiding under some bushes shortly afterward. The loyalist soldier who found him did not report him and thereby saved his life. After a few days Snchez Mazas joined again the nationalist lines.

1939 (February 22)  --  as Franco closed in on the last Republican strongholds, Antonio Machado was forced to flee to France and the town of Colluoure, where he died, just three days before his mother.

1939 (April)  --  end of the Spanish Civil War.

1940 --  Snchez Mazas appointed a member of the Real Academia EspaZola de la Lengua.  He did not, however, attend his inauguration ceremony.  Later he inherited a fortune.  And he had many other political appointments.

1966 (October)  --  death of Snchez Mazas. His life story inspired Javier Cercas to write Soldados de Salamina, which was made into a movie. 

 

 

 

 

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