6 March 2020 | dromasca
the philosopher and the generals
The Spanish Civil War was one of the first intensely publicized armed conflicts, and it inspired numerous fictional and fictional stories, some of them written and published even during the events, between 1936 and 1939. 'While at War' (the title in Spanish is 'Mientras dure la guerra'), the film by director Alejandro Amenábar, made eight decades later, brings to screen the figure of writer, linguist and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, perhaps the most famous Spanish intellectual of that period, and his attitude towards the events related to the outbreak of civil war. It is a biographical and historical film with many qualities. It is also a movie of actuality. Perhaps the most surprising aspect for the spectators is the fact that even today the controversies and ideas raised by the film seem to be contemporary, despite its historical theme. When is the activism that favors 'order' slipping in dictatorship? What is the role of the intellectuals and when does political engagement become inevitable? Does silence mean complicity?
The events described in the film happened in reality, which does not mean that they are not controversial to date. Their facts and interpretations also have a political resonance in contemporary Spain. Two lines of action take place in parallel. The first describes the beginning of the military rebellion led by the junta of generals and the taking of its leadership by Franco on the way to the absolute power that he would hold in Spain until 1975. A redefinition of the aims of the rebellion takes place - from 'restoring order' to an absolutist ideology that combines a return to monarchy, the supremacy of Catholicism and a nationalism with fanatical tendencies, including the cult of death. The second parallel theme relates to the ideological path of Unamuno, from a moderate support of the junta combined with the escapist avoidance of the political engagement at the beginning, to the clarification of his own conscience and the courageous taking of a position in defense of the diversity of ideas and religious freedom, against fanaticism and extremism.
The rendition of historical facts and the atmosphere of the time are performed in a professional and clear manner. The script fails to avoid a few common places, such as a few melodramatic flash-backs and the family scenes related to Unamuno, but most of the time expressively refer to the historical characters of the time. Karra Elejalde creates a human and complex Miguel de Unamuno, dignified but subject to pressures, who, having reached the old age and struggling with his own tendency for balance and compromise and with his born-in intellectual ambivalence, finally manages to gather the physical and intellectual forces to take attitude on the just side of history. Santi Prego not only physically looks exactly like we know Franco from the history books and filmed journals of the time, but also creates a psychological profile of this historical figure in which intellectual mediocrity meets the political talent sustained by opportunism and unscrupulousness. Eduard Fernández plays the role of the other general, Millan Astray, a kind of Spanish Goebbels or Beria, the ideologue of the ascending dictatorship, a far more sinister character because of his fanaticism and inciting of the violence of the fascinated masses. Temporarily the generals will defeat and silence the philosopher. In the perspective of history, however, the philosopher is the one who wins.