Spain is digging up its past. Thirty-five years after Franco’s death, the government, under the recently passed “Historical Memory Law,” is uncovering unmarked mass graves in an attempt to tender justice, or at least recognition, to the hundreds of thousands of victims of the long, bloody dictatorship. Jose-Luis Penafuerte’s “Paths of Memory” examines the effects of that controversial decision, via footage as varied as classroom debates with shocked teens uncertain how to process the revelations, to forensic specialists unearthing remains while hopeful kinfolk of the “disappeared” look on. Fascinating if overreaching docu, with obvious tie-ins to Holocaust films, should find a theatrical niche.
In the words of one eloquent interviewee, the government now belongs to those vanquished in the civil war, but its collective memory still belongs to the victors. There is no official imagery to counterbalance the copious archival footage celebrating Franco and his followers. Instead, present-day survivors pose inside the open cells of the dilapidated Carabanchel prison, speaking of torture, death and solidarity while exiled relatives attest to unending persecution. Ultimately, Penafuerte’s docu encompasses too much, trying to reverse 70 years of silence with a single impassioned testimonial.