You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

30 Years of Darkness

A creative docu on one of the many extraordinary true stories that have grown out of Spain's tortured 20th century, "30 Years of Darkness" is a gem, fusing interviews, analysis and some terrific animation into an intriguing whole that plays like an intelligent thriller.

With: Juan Diego, Ana Fernandez. (Spanish, English dialogue)

A creative docu on one of the many extraordinary true stories that have grown out of Spain’s tortured 20th century, “30 Years of Darkness” is a real gem, fusing interviews, analysis and some terrific animation into an intriguing whole that plays like an intelligent thriller. The titular 30 years were those Manuel Cortes spent after 1939 in his own home, fearful of being killed by Franco’s Nationalist forces; and though 30 years behind closed doors may not be the most exciting premise, Manuel H. Martin does it full moral and dramatic justice. Docu merits play at beyond Spanish-themed fests.

The story of Cortes and men like him has been brought to light previously in books by Jesus Torbado and the late Ronald Fraser, both on hand here to inform this docu, which liberally draws from their work.

Cortes (voiced by Juan Diego) was the socialist mayor of a small town in southern Spain when Franco’s Fascist troops invaded the region. He escaped with his family but soon split from them, knowing that he, his wife and his daughter would be killed if found together.

After fighting for the Republicans, Cortes returned home to his family when the war ended, expecting a spell in prison, but on being told by his father that practically all the other mayors in the region had been killed, he decided to become a “mole,” as those who hid at home during the dictatorship were called. The pic’s various commentators are quick to point out that Cortes had at no point killed anyone. He hid from everyone except his immediate family, and for the first year, even his daughter was unaware that he had returned. The docu successfully evokes the perpetual fear that he will be discovered by authorities that hangs over his impoverished wife Juliana (voiced by Ana Fernandez).

The pic is especially good in detailing the paranoid, morally blurred day-to-day existence of the post-war years in Spain, when neighbors would inform on neighbors to establish their pro-Franco credentials and so ensure survival. When Cortes changes houses dressed as a woman in 1944, the story of his 350-yard nighttime trip trembles with tension. Through the years, remarkable events pile up, some adventurous (involving failed escape attempts to France), and some tragic (Cortes was unable to attend the funeral of his granddaughter, a blow from which he never recovered).

Cortes’ story is interspersed with others about men like him, using interviews with eloquent and impassioned historians, writers and family members that are sometimes moving, and practically always compelling. The pic also mixes in appalling period footage and sequences of effectively rendered still graphics and moving-camera animation that re-create what’s being discussed. (There were no photos of Cortes’ family available — all had been self-destroyed.) Finally, in 1969, there is an opportunity for real catharsis when the government offers amnesty to moles who turn themselves in.

Beyond the specific story, the docu is a worthy addition to a burgeoning canon of material about Spain’s appalling Fascist past, much of which remains unknown, and a critique of the injustice and absurdity of the Civil War. The only real quibble is Pablo Cervantes’ sometimes over-the-top score; elsewhere the use of sound is superb.

Popular on Variety

30 Years of Darkness


Production: A La Claqueta, Pizzel 3D, Irusoin production in association with Canal Sur, ETB, RTVV. (International sales: La Claqueta, Seville.) Produced by Olmo Figueredo Gonzalez-Quevedo. Executive producers, Miguel A. Reina, Enrique F. Guzman, Marta Jimenez, Fernando Larrondo. Directed by Manuel H. Martin. Screenplay, Jorge Laplace.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Daniel Mauri; editor, Carlos Herrera; music, Pablo Cervantes; art director, Miguel Serrano; sound (Dolby Digital), Fernando Pocostales, Juan Canton; animation, Alberto Belmonte, Francisco Javier Macias, Ismael Pinteno, Jordi Solis, Jose Rojo, Juanma Espinosa, Juanma Suarez. Reviewed at Malaga Film Festival (Animazine), April 22, 2012. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: With: Juan Diego, Ana Fernandez. (Spanish, English dialogue)

More Film

  • So Long, My Son directed by

    Wang Xiaoshuai's 'So Long, My Son' Earns Six APSA Nominations

    Chinese drama, “So Long, My Son,” was nominated in six categories for this year’s Asia Pacific Screen Awards. The unprecedented haul makes it a clear favorite. The Wang Xiaoshuai-directed drama about separation, secrets, a lifetime of regret, and the consequences of China’s one child policy, had its premiere in February at the Berlin festival. There [...]

  • Alan Rickman

    Film News Roundup: 'Galaxy Quest' Documentary Set for Release

    In today’s film news roundup, rescue drama “Not Without Hope” is back in development, a “Galaxy Quest” documentary is set for release, “The Two Popes” wins another award, and Ella Joyce gets cast. PROJECT REVIVED U.K.-based financing-production outfit Goldfinch has bought feature film rights to Nick Schuyler’s “Not Without Hope” and signed “The Fog” director [...]

  • Ryan Reynolds John Krasinkski

    Ryan Reynolds, John Krasinski in Talks for 'Imaginary Friends' Movie

    Ryan Reynolds and John Krasinski are in talks to board the fantasy comedy “Imaginary Friends” at Paramount Studios. Paramount recently won the bidding for the property over Lionsgate and Sony. Krasinski will write, direct,  produce and star while Reynolds will co-star if the deals go through. The story centers on a man who can see [...]

  • Willem Dafoe attends the "Motherless Brooklyn"

    Willem Dafoe Joins Guillermo Del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley'

    Willem Dafoe has closed a deal to join Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of “Nightmare Alley.” Collider had first reported that Dafoe was being considered for a role in the film, but sources now say the “Lighthouse” star has closed a deal to join the cast. The “At [...]

  • 'To the Ends of the Earth'

    Busan Film Review: 'To the Ends of the Earth'

    “To the Ends of the Earth,” the story of a young Japanese journalist’s experiences in Uzbekistan filming a report for a Japanese TV travel show, was originally commissioned to celebrate 25 years of cordial diplomatic relations between director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s hyper-developed island homeland and the less affluent, landlocked Central Asian nation. As such we might [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content