IDFA 2019: Death of Antonio Lomas
Ramón Gieling's latest film, co-directed with his son Salvador and supported by the Netherlands Film Fund, illustrates how people in a small Spanish village deal with their bloody and turbulent history.
The date of January 20 1952 is etched within the collective consciousness of the inhabitants of Frigiliana, a village in the south of Spain. That was the day that Antonio Lomas, a Communist partisan and the last of the revolutionary ‘Maquis', was arrested and shot by Franco's Guardia Civil outside his house, in front of his wife and daughters. His body was subsequently paraded through the village on the back of a white mule by the authorities during the San Sebastian fiesta. A painting in the town hall, deposited anonymously, depicts the scene vividly.
When Dutch filmmaker Ramón Gieling, himself a resident of Frigiliana, discovered the story of Lomas, he knew immediately that it should be retold on film. The strange thing was that he had lived in the village a full decade before he even heard the story. An English resident wrote a book about guerrilla warfare under Franco, which opened with the dreadful scene described above. When Gieling asked around, his friends and neighbours happily concurred with the account in the book. "They said, ‘yes of course, this is the story of my uncles, my dad'... In the village they just don't talk about this history," he stresses.
Ramón and Salvador set out therefore to recreate some of the local stories from this period, culminating in the deathly parade, using local villagers. Chief among these is Adolfo, a left-wing firebrand whose politics determine that he can't get a job of high status, despite his considerable intellect (he works as a school janitor). Even though he worries about re-opening wounds from the past within the closed village community, Adolfo goes along with the Gielings' plans for the film, playing a core role within the reconstruction as a vicious captain within the Guardia Civil. We also see that Adolfo has a son with learning difficulties, a situation that places considerable strain on his marriage.
Another great character is Antonio el de la Poeta, whose brother and father were killed by the Guardia Civil and who, towards the film's conclusion, confronts the former Falangist mayor, a self-proclaimed fascista. We are kept guessing as to what will ensue, whether a process of truth and reconciliation or a violent reawakening of enmities. Antonio also agrees to the dramatisation of his brother's brutal murder, together with two other young men.
As in previous works such as Erbarme dich and the Johan Cruyff-inspired En un momento dado, Ramón is single-minded in shaping the film that he wants. That said, he is, with Salvador, both generous and inclusive, and the on-screen contribution of his characters allows him to test the boundaries between documentary, fiction and art. At the beginning Ramón asks rhetorically to Adolfo if "the idea of the film was mine, yours, or was it a mutual idea," and one concludes that there was a high degree of parity on the part of directors and their key protagonist throughout the process.
"Adolfo is a fantastic character," underlines Ramón. "I didn't know him but one of the other guys in the film said, ‘I want you to meet someone who can be important for you'. From that moment there was an immediate bond with Adolfo and he was very happy that finally there was someone who would make something about this history that he felt had to see the light of day. A very important characteristic is that he is not a coward, he is very brave."
The director adds: "I didn't want to make a political film, I didn't want to make a leftist statement. I just wanted to show how people deal with the past and how they survive."
SEE NL Magazine #37 November 2019 / IDFA Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.