As valuable, enlightening and moving as his debut about life at the edges of society (“The Back of the World,” 2001), Javier Corcuera’s docu “The Guerrilla of Memory” nonetheless gives a distorted picture of a neglected aspect of the Spanish Civil War — the maquis, the rural anti-Franco resistance which, fearful of Fascist reprisals, disappeared into the mountains when the dictator came to power. As an effort to recover the forgotten history of these people, this is a welcome document; but the decision to focus on the human side and not to tackle the complex, messy politics leaves its focus feeling narrow. An extra 20 minutes’ running time could have made a big difference.
Pic was released theatrically in Spain in early February and should find berths in fest sidebars. It was part-produced by Spanish helmer Montxo Armendariz, whose “Broken Silence” (2001) has been one of the few fictional treatments of the maquis. “Guerrilla” arose out of the research done on “Silence.”
Using testimony from 15 now-elderly men and women — in all, only around 40 are reckoned still to be alive from the 5,000 at their height — film puts together its incredible story through sometimes unbearably intense interviews. It movingly describes these people’s idealistic struggle to “get the government back for the workers”; the human tragedy (one of the interviewees’ mothers was shot while her daughter was in jail); and the grotesque absurdity of living for years in the mountains only to be later arrested and thrown into jail. Thick with anecdote and rich in emotion, pic swings easily and grippingly between moods.
One section has maquis revisiting their old mountain retreats and includes a moving visit to a Fascist burial ground. However, the film is unrevealing about the harsh practicalities of their day-to-day life — and even less revealing about the politics. The script suggests that the maquis were one big happy family, but the record states that there was plenty of infighting and betrayal, little of it mentioned here.
Since Corcuera’s style is simply to let the cameras roll on his interviewees, the result is often dictated by the contours of their memories — and thus rose-tinted. But the interviewees’ desire to be positive, while it may distort history, is also oddly life affirming and a testament to the vital importance of ideals in keeping people going. Archive material is limited to a few old photographs.