“An interesting and occasionally powerful film”
by Martin Hafer
Guernica is a very good film and it’s well worth seeing. However, I also assume that most folks just aren’t that interested in seeing a film about a town leveled in 1937 during the god-awful Spanish Civil War. Not exactly a crowd-pleaser of a topic for a movie in 2016…but still a well made and interesting film that has debuted this week on Netflix.
To really understand the movie, you should know a bit about this war–things you may not clearly understand when you watch. In 1936, the Spanish people elected a socialist government (often called ‘Republicans’). However, a coup soon broken out when right-wing nationalist generals decided to depose their leader and create their own government. It wasn’t a quick nor easy process, however, and the bloody war raged on for several years. Soon the Soviets began aiding the government and the Axis powers (Germany and Italy) began sending support to help General Franco and his Nationalist forces ultimately win the war. The destruction of the town of Guernica by the Luftwaffe was soon made famous by Picasso’s enormous mural named after this city.
When the film begins, Henry (James D’Arcy) is an American news correspondent who working in Spain during this war. He soon finds frustration in covering the events, as often the Republican Spanish government heavily censors his stories–making them, essentially, bland propaganda. What he doesn’t realize is that the Soviets advisers in the country are essentially running both this propaganda campaign as well as a Stalinist system by which ‘enemies of the state’ are ruthlessly purged…whether or not they are guilty of anything. Because Henry has a habit of stepping on toes, he soon is the subject of one of these purges…and this ends up not only affecting him but his lady, Teresa (Maria Valverde). But just as this trap is sprung, the infamous bombing begins.
While this is a romance, I must emphasize that the romantic portion is not primary. Additionally, the plot will not satisfy romance junkies–it doesn’t follow the formula of a romance and is more tragic than heartwarming. Instead, the film is more about the events leading up to the carpet bombing of the town of Guernica as well as a vivid recreation of this…and this fictional romance is woven into this. History junkies, however, will be happy with this choice in focus, as the film did an excellent job trying to get the look right of the German planes, uniforms and costumes. It also didn’t portray either side as the good guys or bad guys–a mistake many films often make when they discuss the war. Think about it…Stalin on one side, Hitler and Mussolini on the other! About the only thing that didn’t work for me in the film was having Henry knowing absolutely no Spanish…none…which was very odd for a news man living in Spain and investigating what’s going on in the war. Odd…but not a serious problem with the film. Overall, an interesting and occasionally powerful film about a seldom discussed topic.