‘The Silence of Others’ brings justice to victims of the Spanish Civil War

Directed by Emmy-winning filmmakers Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, ‘The Silence of Others’ is an exposé of the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship following it. The film follows a lawsuit against the Amnesty Act in 1977, which essentially enforced a national “forgetting” of the crimes against humanity committed under Franco’s rule. Though the Spanish Parliament wishes to forget its past, ‘The Silence of Others’ refuses to let it. (JRL: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Julia Lasker

‘The Silence of Others’ documents the aftermath of the Franco dictatorship following the Spanish Civil War. In an attempt to ease tension between political factions in Spain, the parliament enacted the Amnesty Act of 1977, or the “pact of forgetting.” This law demanded that the events that occurred under Franco’s leadership be erased from the national record, including in national media and the history textbooks of future generations.

This “forgetting” is obviously easier said than done, especially for the individuals who have been directly impacted by the crimes committed under Franco’s dictatorship. The film follows the stories of several such individuals, documenting their deep emotional trauma and journeys to find justice. This includes an aging woman who lost her mother’s body in a mass grave, a man who lives on the same street as his torturer, and a woman whose baby was taken from her the moment it was born. This last one, a particularly disturbing display of fascism, was a regular occurrence during the Franco dictatorship; thousands of women who were thought to be opponents of the regime or were unmarried or poor had their babies taken away and adopted into other families the second they were born.

A group of such individuals filed a lawsuit in Argentina in 2010, and in a moment of triumph lawyer Maria Servini agreed to represent the case. Directors Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar trace this legal battle and the emotional journey it brings for Franco’s victims over the course of six years. What results is a heart-wrenching and sometimes enraging testament to the fact that a law cannot so easily make blatant wrongdoings forgiven or forgotten. 

‘The Silence of Others’ truly excels at making the personal political. By tracing the stories of only a few select individuals, the audience is able to form emotional attachments to each of them, making their legal and personal struggles feel all the more pertinent. Showing the impact that the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship had on the lives and the psyches of these endearing individuals really drives home the evil of Spain’s recent history.

On the other hand, the filmmakers may have made their scope a bit too narrow by focusing on just the lawsuit and the individuals filing it. For someone with extensive knowledge of Spain’s history, this would not be a problem, but most people probably need more of a refresher. The film does give some context about the war and the nature of Franco’s rule, but more details explaining exactly why the film’s protagonists are in the position they are seems necessary.

The film provides very little emotional closure, presenting devastating stories and rarely showing their conclusions. I found this incredibly difficult to stomach, but in a way, that’s probably the point. The fight against the “pact of forgetting” is far from over, and that’s the note the film leaves us on. Perhaps this is to light a fire underneath us to follow the film’s example and make visible what Spanish parliament has tried so hard to hide. ‘The Silence of Others’ does not hold back in exposing the brutality of Franco’s reign. The film makes these injustices known, as they should be, and others should follow in its footsteps.

Commentary by Review Coach Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

“The Silence of Others” puts an eerie tone on the history of the Spanish Civil War from the start–an old woman, voice damaged so that she can only speak to the camera in a whisper, hoarsely leads us to the side of a highway at the break of dawn. As she puts flowers on the metal railing by the side of the road, she says “here are the graves.” She gestures to the entire area, just barely lit from the rising sun. There is no way to tell where these graves are supposed to end. “By the day after tomorrow, these will be gone,” she says of the flowers. Who will take them, she does not say.

The Spanish Civil War is very much a story about bodies lying just beneath the surface of everyday life, as “The Silence of Others” shows us. Some people lost parents, some lost children, and almost everyone knows someone who disappeared without a trace. Some of these people can be found in mass graves, while some will never be found. The film makes the viewer feel the uncertainty and the uncanny energy of this lack of closure. In the end, “The Silence of Others” shows Spain as a country haunted by the past in an almost literal sense.

Q: Does ‘The Silence of Others’ pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

A: No. There are conversations between women, but their conversations involve men.

Photos: Credit to IMDB.

© Julia Lasker (5/17/19) FF2 Media

Tags: FF2 Media

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