Many films have dealt with the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), but few in memory have tackled events in neighboring Portugal during this traumatic period. With “Signs of Fire,” Luis Filipe Rocha, one of Portugal’s most interesting filmmakers (his “Cerromaior” played at some fests a few years ago) examines how his country was affected by Gen. Franco’s rebellion against the Spanish government by means of an intimate, compelling, personal story. Pic stands as a good bet for the fest circuit.
It’s the summer of 1936, and a small group of young people are holidaying by the sea, including the beautiful Mercedes, her hotheaded brother, Ramos, and Jorge, who becomes infatuated with Mercedes. As the bad news from across the border filters through to these holiday-makers, tensions mount as pro- and anti-Franco positions are taken, and Ramos, together with some of his friends, decides to enter Spain by sea and fight on the side of the anti-fascists. Meanwhile, Portugal’s right-wing dictator, Salazar, seizes the opportunity to tighten his own control.
It’s an intriguing, at times rather oblique, drama, handsomely mounted and briskly paced, with a fine performance from Ruth Gabriel as the desirable young woman torn between two lovers and two ideologies.