D’Arcy, Davenport, Valverde Star in ‘Gernika’

James D'Arcy, Jack Davenport and Maria
Photos Courtesy of Getty Images

Spain-U.S. co-pro a love triangle set against the watershed atrocity

MADRID – James D’Arcy (“Master and Commander,” “Cloud Atlas”), Jack Davenport (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) and Maria Valverde (“Exodus”) star in “Gernika,” a love story set against the infamous bombing of the Basque village, immortalized in Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica.”

Shot in the Basque Country, including in Gernika itself, the film marks the sophomore outing for Basque director Koldo Serra, who debuted impressively with “Backwoods,” a thriller portraying deep Spain prejudice and violence and starring Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine.

A Spain-U.S. co-production, “Gernika” is lead-produced by Daniel Dreifuss at new shingle Anima Pictures and, out of Spain, Jose Alba at Pecado Films. Carlos Clavijo at Travis Produce and Sayaka Producciones’ Nahikari Ipiña co-produce.

Helmed by a Basque, using a Basque tax shelter, and made with a Basque and Spanish crew, “Gernika” is supported by a host of Basque entities, led by pubcaster ETB, the region of Vizcaya and the Bilbao City Council.  That said, it is a film made in an international film idiom as a love-triangle story that insists, with inevitable echoes of “Casablanca,” on the elemental role individuals truly play in larger social transition.

Screenplay by Barney Cohen and Carlos Clavijo (“Sabrina, the Teenage Witch”), from an original story by Barney Cohen, Carlos Clavijo, Jose Alba and Daniel Dreifuss, “Gernika” turns on Henry (D’Arcy), a jaded American journalist who meets Teresa (Valverde), an editor of the Republican press office on the Republic’s northern front as it attempted to staunch the advance of Francisco Franco’s far better equipped rebels whose chief-of-staff, General Mola, later most probably killed by Franco, advocated mass slaughter as a military principle.

Herself courted by Vasyl (Jack Davenport), a Stalinist apparatchik against his own will sent to advise the Republican government, Teresa, who falls for Henry’s dormant idealism, works as a censor who is increasingly outraged by the spin she has to give to news.

Once more reaching out to international audiences- “Gernika’s” characters channel the ethical stances of legendary figures who depicted the Spanish Civil War, said Serra: “Henry will have character traits of George Steer, Ernest Hemingway and Robert Capa, And while there will be considerably large, dramatic war sequences, the story is, at heart, an intimate one. Hopefully, it feels like ‘Casablanca.’“

Henry, for example, lives off the fading glory he etched as a wunderkind journalist in World War I, just as Hemingway was wounded on the Italian front in World War I, but struck a far less dramatic figure in the Spanish Civil War where the Republic thought him far too important to allow him near the front.

It was the redoubtable George Steer, reporting for “The Times” and “The New York Times,” whose eloquent and detailed articles of how German aircraft alternately bombed and strafed escaping civilians to keep them in the village which persuaded the world that Guernica’s destruction was an attempt at blitzkrieg by Germany’s Luftwaffe-staffed Condor Legion to demoralize the Republic’s civilian rearguard and not, as Franco’s insurgents maintained, Basques’ blowing up their own spiritual sanctuary.

Said to be influenced by Steer, Picasso began to paint “Guernica” five days after the bombing.  In the West, such was its atrocity, that Guernica turned the tide against Franco and his fascist allies, with “Time,” “Life” and “Newsweek” thereafter taking the side of the Republic, Hugh Thomas writes in “The Spanish Civil War.”

Ingrid Garcia-Jonsson, one of Spain’s most talked-up actresses since her performance last year in Cannes-selected “Beautiful Youth,” leads a supporting cast which includes Alex Garcia (“Kamikaze”), Barbara Goenaga (“Agnosia”), Burn Gorman (“Pacific Rim”) and Joachim Assboeck (“Schindler’s List”).

“I strive to find the universality in stories which are very particular and relevant to a culture and people,” said Dreifuss, a producer on Pablo Larrain’s Oscar-nominated “No,” about the extraordinary-but-true overthrow of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

“The story of Gernika has never been told on film in this manner.  It is an homage to classic films of the ‘30s and ‘40s where sweeping love triangles were set against the backdrop of political and social turmoil,” he added.

“It’s also important to recognize that Gernika resonates with issues we face in the world today, from the violation of human rights to the integral role the press plays in the pursuit of truth and transparency,” said Dreifuss, whose grandparents were German Jews, sent to Gurs Camp, established to control Republicans who fled Spain after he fall of the Republic in 1939.

“From the daily grind of war to the most ingenious tricks reporters use to avoid censorship, ‘Gernika’ is a mirror of today told on a stage prior to World War II,” Alba added.

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