This shameful part of history is one that many Australians won’t have any idea about. I was floored when I saw this film. Floored.
As rich in atmosphere and intrigue as last year’s critically acclaimed and award-sweeping Black Bread, the newest work to tackle the long scars of the Franco dictatorship on the Spanish psyche provides for an equally potent drama. Pepita (the extraordinary Maria Leon, in one of the breakout performances of 2011) travels from the country to Madrid in 1940 to be near her pregnant sister Hortensia (Inma Cuesta), unjustly imprisoned and awaiting a potential execution. An innocent focused only on saving her sister, Pepita nervously aids Felipe, the father of Hotensia’s child, who leads a band of anti-government guerrila fighters hiding in the mountains.
The melodramatic plot, with scenes of intense anguish inside the all-women’s prison where Hortensia is being held, creates fertile emotional territory for Benito Zambrano’s first film since 2005’s Habana Blues. Zambrano’s expert restraint of sentimentality respects the brave struggles of the women of Spain, and provides an affecting and cathartic attempt to purge the dark days of the past. – Jaie Laplante