Two Spanish soldiers Silverio (Eric Francés) and Teo (Joan Carles Suau) are guarding a very remote and cold outpost during a bitter winter of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), when they suddenly discover a Polish woman (Monika Kowalka), hurt and unconscious. They immediately recognise that she is a “red” fighting with the enemy, and ponder whether it would be best to kill her, for their own security. Silverio and Teo are Nationalists supporting General Francisco Franco, who would eventually win the War and rule Spain until his death in 1975.
They nurse her back to health, and both man become infatuated with the mysterious woman, who turns to be called Zoska. Silverio is much more passionate and and straightforward in his attraction, while Teo holds back and does not even touch the beautiful Polish enemy, whose strong complexion looks a lot like a young Liv Ullmann. They decide to keep her hidden, despite knowing that this would almost certainly lead to their execution by their own commanders.
The biggest achievement of El Destierro is its astounding cinematography. The black and white images segue seamlessly into colour photography, while the conspicuous snow conveys a sense of isolation as well as a false and strange sense of romance and security. All three characters know that their chances of surviving are very meagre.
Political allegiances and loyalty are central themes, and these are not as black and white as the images that pervade the film. Zoska explains that she decided to fight for “freedom” in Spain because she admired Spanish painters such as Velázquez and Goya, and these were threatened by the fascists that Silverio and Teo are fighting for. The two man think that she is wrong but they are not able to articulate their views. Here it is the female that possesses the intellectual capital.
War often switches off humanity and solidarity, but Silverio and Teo made the difficult decision to sacrifice their political ideology for the sake of a human life. But will they succeed in their risky endeavour? Or will their personal differences and the fear of execution prevail? These dilemmas are far from exclusive to these two men; they reflect life in Spain for the next four decades, when people had to decide between feigning allegience to the regime or risking political persecution.
Arturo Ruiz Serrano’s first feature is a beautiful and touching movie, but there are also teething problems. The complexity and the depth of the narrative is not entirely matched by the somewhat unidimensional and flat performances, and the dialogue sometimes slips into emotional platitudes and clichéd gender role discussions. And the soundscore is a little saccharine, which also dilutes the dramaturgy of the film.
El Destierro will open the Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival taking place from November 3rd-12th – just click here for more information about the event. You can also find out more about the film, other screenings and distribution in other countries by clicking here. This would make a refreshing addition to your local cinema, more used to the colourful Almodóvar dramas when showing Spanish cinema.
You can watch the film trailer below: