Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Movie with Abe: The Silence of Others

The Silence of Others
Directed by Robert Bahar and Almudena Carracedo
Opening May 8, 2019

When countries or regions experience a prolonged totalitarian rule or conflict of any sort, there is an eagerness to move forward and reframe the mindset of the people to a freer and more productive place. Yet when just one figurehead or party is dismantled and others who actively participated in their regime or war remain, a new kind of government and attitude emerges, one that might still contain problematic elements of what came before since a military defeat does not necessarily change minds or compel others to behave truly differently.

This documentary begins with a history lesson introducing General Francisco Franco, who served as the leader of Spain from 1939 to 1975. A number of people interviewed explain how the dictator and his minions tortured them or killed their parents, and they continue to seek justice for those still alive and responsible, as well as the exhumation of remains that they have been unable to access for decades. An amnesty law and universal agreement to forget as a country stand in their way, and a new approach that may prove to be their only chance involves international courts prosecuting specific individuals for crimes against humanity, for which there exists no statute of limitations.

Many documentaries unmask historical happenings or provide an intimate look at the people affected, and this film masterfully manages to do both. Reminiscent of “The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence,” this film speaks directly with those who remember vividly the names and faces of those who traumatized them and recount those they have lost and seek so desperately to be reunited with, to give them a proper eternal resting place. An added dimension comes from a practice of separating newborn babies from parents deemed politically or mentally unfit and modern-day attempts to uncover records to let those who were told their offspring had died in childbirth know that they do in fact have children who are now grown.

There is an incredible unity that comes from the people who join to become plaintiffs in a lawsuit, fighting continuously against a government that continues to want to protect its members – and its national reputation – from embarrassment and consequences for crimes perpetrated long ago. Victims pointing out streets that are named for their tormenters or standing outside their homes just a few blocks from where they live are particularly powerful and devastating. Though this film is centered only on Spain, it opens the door to many questions about international accountability and the importance of memory. In both its portrayal of what has happened in Spain and what should take place everywhere else, this film succeeds magnificently.


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