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Mariano Barroso Shoots Basque Conflict Origins Story ‘La Linea Invisible’

IRUN, Spain  — When- and why – do people begin to kill for a cause?

Having created “What the Future Holds,” maybe the best reviewed to date of any Movistar + Original Series, Spain’s Mariano Barroso (“The Wolves of Washington”) tackles this question head on in “La Línea Invisible,” a six-part series, again from Movistar +, focusing on the first assassination perpetrated by Basque terrorist org ETA – of José Antonio Pardines, a humble civil guard, on June 7 1968. 828 further ETA murders were to follow.

“La línea Invisible” marks the second Movistar + Original Series to shoot this year, after “On Death Row,” based on true events, as Movistar +, the pay TV arm of Telefonica, Europe’ second biggest telecom, focuses ever more in its Original Sries on the recent – or contemporary – history  of Spain, enrolling some of the greatest Spanish actors. The stars of “La Línea Invisible” are examples: Antonio de la Torre, a recent Spanish Academy Goya and Platino Award winner for his tour de force lead in “The Kingdom”; Alex Monner (“Unauthorized Living”) and Anna Castillo, a standout in Iciar Bollaín’s “The Olive Tree.”

De la Torre plays chief inspector Melitón Manzanas, ETA’s first target, head of the secret police in San Sebastian, reviled for his long history of torture of dissidents under Franco, trained in the early ‘40s by the Gestapo to snare fugitives on the French-Spanish border: the Basque Country poster boy of Francoist repression.

In one scene filmed on July 16, when the show’s set was opened up to the press, Manzanas questions a nun about poems written by Txabi Etxebarrieta (Monner), a poet, essayist and charismatic leader of ETA from the mid-‘60s despite being not much over 20. It is Extebarrieta who commits ETA’s first assassination, on June 7 1968, whose victim was a young civil guard, José Antonio Pardines.

Written by Barroso, Alejandro Hernández (“What the Future Holds”) and Michel Gaztambide (“Gigantes”), “La Línea Invisble” has been filming since May 29 in Spain’s Basque Country on a shoot which runs through to late August. “The Invisible Line” is Etxebarrieta’s life story, which forms the backbone of the series.

Historians suggest the Basque separatist left turned to killing violence to argue, as John Hooper notes in “The Spaniards,” that “the Basque Country was subject to a unique double repression by capitalism and centralism.” The more the repression, the more their argument held water.

“La Línea Invisible” comes in on the Basque conflicts from a different angle. Doing so, it suggests, in various ways, hallmarks of new TV in Spain, and beyond.


“Many people will expect a mono-color approach to Melitón Manzanas,” actor De la Torre said in Irún. “That would be a capital error,” he added. People are multifaceted. Manzanas loved his family, is affectionate with his daughter, had multiple sides to him, weaknesses, and also tortured suspects.”

“The protagonists of many of the series we admire most – “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” – are people with pretty twisted morals, but you understand them as human beings and stand by them,” Barroso added.

“La Línea Invisible” has many shades of grey.

In ETA’s first assassination, Pardines died quite by chance, manning a road block at which he stopped Etxebarrieta’s car and asked why its papers didn’t match its number plate. That diligence cost him his life. Etxebarrieta was on high on centraminas speed, had already determined panicked, drew a gun and shot him dead.

“There’s drama when there’s moral dilemma,” says Barroso. “Txabi Extebarrieta and his comrades decide they have to take action, but he then takes months trying desperately to find reasons to not do so.” In one scene in the film, though not particularly religious, he will consult a priest.

La Linea Invisible

For Barroso, “You could argue that when he does pull the trigger, that it’s not even him and that there’s a conjunction of circumstances in play. We wanted to find the most human parts of the characters.”

He went on: “It’s interesting to read the memoirs of people from that time. Mario Onaindía recounts how ETA a lot of times followed a police, trained their guns on him, but didn’t dare to do such a simple thing as pull the trigger.”

“That can take years, or a lifetime, crossing that line is the most difficult thing of all but once you do, you realize how easy it is to repeat and that’s when a brutal, crude reality begins,” Barroso said.


“Gabriel García Márquez once wrote in his diary that everybody has three lives: the public, private and secret,” said Barroso. “You can’t get so many levels into movies, but series allow you to discover and weave all three levels,” he added.

So many scenes in “La Línea Invisible” are “shot from the inside,” but then we move outside to show what the characters are doing, on both sides of the conflict. It seemed the way to depict the tragedy of living like that.”


“As a director, Mariano Barroso has a strong sense of large character arcs. Above all in early rehearsals we talked a lot about this,” said Anna Castillo, who plays a member of Etxebarrieta’s closest circle when he was very young and he and his friends “could have a gang from the Bronx, create a community, defend it and what they believe in.”

“Even nightmares can begin as dreams,” Barroso said several times on the set of “La Línea Invisible.”

“La Línea Invisible” takes place over 1963 to 1968. “Many viewers know how the story ends. We try to focus not on what happens, but why. The suspense is how the characters evolve, how Txabi begins to assume the leadership of ETA, the relationships between the characters, the expulsions, how they manipulate one another.”

This, in other words, is Txabi Etxebarrieta’s coming of age story where maturity weighs heavily.

Manzanas evolve in two ways, for De la Torre. He begins to realize that the Basque Country could blow up out of his control, and “there’s a sense of disillusionment, with his work, and his personal circumstance,” De la Torre added, noting that “Nelson Mandela once said that you have to free not only the oppressed but also oppressors. The series is like a double Greek tragedy and, as in any good Greek tragedy, at the end both must die.”

La Linea Invisible

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