It would be hard to imagine a theme richer in drama than the real-life detention, trial and execution of 13 young women by Franco’s nationalist forces, which makes it all the more disappointing that the ambitious “13 Roses” largely withers on the vine. Helmer Emilio Martinez-Lazaro has opted for an uncertain treatment which convinces neither historically nor dramatically. Decently budgeted item looks splendid and features a couple of sparky perfs, but is further let down by its psychological superficiality. Business beyond Spanish-speaking territories looks thin.
Set in Madrid in 1939, pic begins with the entry of Franco’s victorious troops into the city. Streetcar attendant Julia (Veronica Sanchez) and Red Cross worker Virtudes (Marta Etura) are two idealistic Republican militants. They spend their evenings in a nightclub watching musicians Enrique (Asier Etxeandia), husband of Blanca (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), and communist Canepa (Enrico Lo Verso) perform as the bombs fall.
When Canepa decides to leave, Blanca gives him some money to help him on his way. Meanwhile, Julia strikes up a relationship with dapper young nationalist soldier Perico (Felix Gomez).
It is rumored that there was a plot to assassinate Franco on his victorious entry into the capital, and the nationalists are seeking revenge. (Pic makes it quite clear that none of the the girls had anything to do with this.) The first to be arrested is Julia, who, before too long, is being sadistically tortured by cop Fontenla (Adriano Giannini). Virtudes’ co-worker, Adelina (Gabriella Pession), like most of the others a member of a socialist group, is turned in by her well-meaning father.
One by one, the girls are arrested, and by the 75-minute mark, they’ve all been jailed. Oddly, they continue to look attractive, radiant and neatly made-up under the watch of uptight prison director Carmen Castro (Goya Toledo, implausible). At one point, they even enjoy a bit of tap-dancing (historically true but here risible).
Script juggles its several storylines with skill but, apart from perfs by Etura and Lopez de Ayala, character work is substandard. Despite the wise decision to focus on fewer than half of the 13 women, pic mostly fails to inhabit the heads of its uniformly angelic protags.
Visuals are superb, with some stunning period detail in the art direction, and fine digital f/x and lensing by Jose Luis Alcaine. Dubbing of the three Italian thesps into Spanish is not always persuasive.