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“More like sitting through an earnest lecture in Politics 1.0.1, at a college of dubious merit. “

Like most civil wars, the Spanish one was a nasty, brutal affair that split families as well as the nation. Not that you’d know it from this, which suggests the citizens were entirely behind the anarchist forces: odd how the opposing Fascist forces not only prevailed, but then held power for close to 40 years. You don’t do that without significant popular support. Putting that aside (for the moment), this is the story of Maria (Gil), a young nun ‘liberated’ from her convent as the Civil War gets under way, amid a wave of anti-religious fervour. Initially just trying to get home to Zaragosa, she’s escorted by militant militia woman Pilar (Belen), and eventually decides to join their female fighting force and take up arms against the Fascists. That puts them at odds not just with the men in charge, but many of their own sex, who would rather see them doing laundry and providing ancilliary support, rather than in the front lines.

Actually, I can see from this why they lost, because this comes across as a bunch of idealistic anarchists, playing at soldiers, and going up against the real thing. The results were hardly surprising (and I also note the hypocrisy on view, in a society which professes the equality of men and women, while actively discriminating against the latter). It’s not an area of history with which I’m all that familiar, and the lead actresses did a good job with what were really paper-thin characters – oh, look, it’s a prostitute with a heart of gold. When it sticks to the central group, it’s a lot more successful than when it tries to broaden things out, for example by the inclusion of a former priest with the hots for Maria. It’s also way too heavy-handed with the politics and political symbolism, and the final section, while certainly an effective illustration of the brutality present in armed conflict, comes out of nowhere and jars badly with the tone set by the rest of the film.

There are a few moments which do stand out, such as Maria lecturing the Fascist troops with Anarchist propaganda through a megaphone – that goes about as well as you’d expect. But the bulk of its over two-hour running time is a chore, with a story that feels built around and forced into making its political points, and is only loosely masquerading as entertainment.

Dir: Vicente Aranda
Star: Ariadna Gil, Ana Belen, Victoria Abril, Blanca Apilanez

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