¡AY, CARMELA! (Carlos Saura, 1990)

Carlos Saura’s The Garden of Delights (1970) and Raise Ravens (1975) are both political allegories about Franco’s Spain, and at least the later film is brilliant. The earlier one is also commendable, but I do not feel the same way about Saura’s ¡Ay, Carmela!, which takes place during the Spanish Civil War that brought the beast Franco to power, replacing Spain’s democratically elected Popular Front government. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported and assisted Franco and his Nationalists.
     The main characters are Carmela and Paulino, a spousal theatrical team who, along with Gustavete, who is mute, travel the countryside performing their variety act for Republican troops. Heading for Valencia, though, they end up arrested by the enemy. The town’s mayor is (along with others) executed, terrifying our trio; they lie about their sympathies. Whether he wholeheartedly believes them, an Italian commander, a theatrical director in civilian life, recruits them for a show of his own. The upshot will be that one of the three will lose his or her life.
     This isn’t a bad film, but the terror of the situation, the whole context of civil war, isn’t made especially real or pervasive, and our knowledge of the outcome that the one death amongst our trio symbolizes glumly caps what is otherwise largely a comedy. Yet even this death—why be coy about it? Carmela’s—is oddly unaffecting, as though fifteen years after Franco’s death Saura could no longer muster the artillery of outrage and sadness that had once occupied his political heart.
     However, the film won thirteen(!) Goyas, including for best film, director, screenplay (Saura and Rafael Azcona, adapting a play by José Sanchís Sinisterra), Carmen Maura, Andrés Pajares and supporting actor Gabino Diego. Indeed, Maura, Pajares and Diego won other acting prizes besides.

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