HBO Europe’s ‘Patria’ Strikes a Chord in San Sebastian


Patria,” the signature series of HBO España, has struck a chord at Spain’s San Sebastian Festival.

“’Patria’ is the most important series of the year, and also a marvel, which will move everyone and give us a lot to talk about,” tweeted Javier Zurro of El Español. Cineuropa hails it an “extraordinary HBO series.”

The eight-parter was screened in its entirety on Friday evening with a 90-minute interval. Near all the audience returned for the second half, though it finished at 1.30 a.m.

The robust reception for “Patria” at San Sebastian, which is located in the Basque Country, was no given when one considers the series’ subject.

Depicting the visceral impact of the Basque Country’s armed conflict on normal people on both sides – as well as many somewhere in between – the series’ main storyline turns on Bitorri and Miren, two women who were once the closest of friends.

It begins in 2010, as Basque terrorist organization ETA announces it will lay down its arms and Bitorri, who is dying of cancer, and wants closure, takes a bus from San Sebastian back to her house in her home town to find out who in ETA killed her husband, El Taxto, who ran a small business there. Miren, meanwhile, has sunk into embittered remorse – over El Taxto’s death and the imprisonment of her son, Joxe Mari, who joined ETA and may have taken part in El Taxto’s murder.

A split screen poster of “Patria” caused huge controversy in Spain just before the festival by depicting on the left-hand side Bitorri kneeling over Taxto’s dead body in a street, howling with pain, and on the right, a naked, bound Joxe Mari, lying on the floor in a prison interrogation room, as his interrogators drink coffee, indifferent to his plight. That equal space implied an equal distance between both sides of the conflict, the poster’s critics argued.

Created and written by Aitor Gabilondo (“El Príncipe”), and directed by Felix Viscarret (“Under the Stars”) and Óscar Pedraza (“Vivir sin permiso”), the series itself dispels such notions, say those who have seen it in its entirety. It is made “with no false equidistance nor black and whites,” El Pais proclaims.

Initial reactions to the series, at least in Spain, underscore the fascination of long-form fiction for audiences there.

“Patria” adapts Fernando Aramburu’s 646-page novel of the same title, which interlaces the stories of multiple characters. Asked at a press conference on Saturday about what part of Aramburu’s story he wanted to represent best on the screen, Gabilondo replied that it was the journey of the initially totally estranged Bitorri and Miren toward a final embrace. The most acclaimed of series in Spain remain character, not action driven, with audiences investing hugely in the protagonists’ fate, debating its reasons, and what morals can be drawn.

Can “Patria” aid wide-scale reconciliation in the Basque Country, its makers were asked at the press conference. “Most series vanish quickly,” said Miguel Salvat, HBO España’s head of original programming. ‘Patria’ will spark conversation. As Aitor says, the most important thing isn’t being right, but being able to talk.”

The series was originally scheduled to world premiere at France’s Series Mania in late March, and then roll out day and date on May 17 in the U.S. and 61 countries across Europe and Latin America, a first for HBO Europe. Halting parts of meticulous post-production, COVID-19 put pay to those plans. “Patria” will now roll out in Europe, the U.S. and Latin America on Sept. 27.

Emilio Mayorga contributed to this article.