The Moro Spanish Film Festival presented by Palace kicks off in Perth on April 28, with a curated selection of 29 films offering movie lovers a cinematic journey across Spain and Latin America. Accessreel’s Sian shares her thoughts on one of the flicks making its Australian debut at the festival; WHILE AT WAR.
With WHILE AT WAR, Writer/Director Alejandro Amenábar (best known internationally for THE OTHERS starring Nicole Kidman) presents his first all-Spanish film since the well-respected THE SEA INSIDE (2004). It presents a study of Spain’s fall in to a nearly 40 year dictatorship under General Franco through the eyes of the respected, but ageing, philosopher and writer Miguel de Unamuno. Initially supportive of an uprising, the old man finds himself in a country that is changing for the worse – and too rapidly for him to have any impact against it.
Carefully crafted – and as beautiful as the city of Salamanca in which it is set – WHILE AT WAR is a serious, complex and steady film that marches along in a stately fashion, yet rarely gathers much pace or urgency. Whilst beautifully acted, as a character-driven piece it is a little confusing: Miguel is stubbornly oblivious, heavily flawed and not always likeable. His two close friends are arguably more likeable and present opposing political ideals. Even Franco is portrayed as spookily reasonable at times (the Spanish Legion Commander Millán Astray is more villainous in his depiction than Franco). Therefore, historical knowledge aside, viewers may find themselves unsure of who to “barrack for”….unusual in a war film!
I can’t help but admire and respect how the film offers quite a balanced view of left and right-wing views. However, as an audience member, it’s nice to have a hero or an ideal to cling to. The woman characters, though secondary in the story, are presented as strong and far more “with it” than the power-hungry men. This is surprising given the era in which the film is set, but is very welcome and refreshing.
Regardless of its narrative “flaws”, WHILE AT WAR is a beautifully made film, stunningly shot and with fine performances. It could have been dramatised more, pace could have been “upped” creating more suspense and excitement. Yet, its unsettling steady march in to Franco’s dominion is probably reflective of how it felt to the Spanish people, who were somewhat unwittingly led in to a dictatorship they were powerless to stop.
I rate it 6.5 stars