Almodovar’s new film and the burdens of remembering the Spanish civil war

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 31, 2022

Photos from the Spanish civil war of 1936 to 1939 by modificata da HominisCon dall’originale . CC BY-SA 4.0

This is not the year of a big birthday in case of the Spanish civil war. It is either its 83rd or 86th  anniversary, depending on how you want to count it. It was in 1936 that a broad coalition of Republicans loyal to the left-leaning Popular Front (in alliance with communists) fought against the Nationalists (and their broad coalition of monarchists, conservatives and junta-types). It was in 1939 that the Nationalists won, setting the stage for nearly four decades of Caudillo Franco (the Spanish equivalent of the German Fuhrer and Italian Duce).

So, it’s not a big birthday any which way for the Spanish civil war and yet, attention is focussed on it. That’s because of Pedro Almodovar’s new film, ‘Parallel Mothers’. Just released in the UK, the film has Penelope Cruz as a determined photographer, who wants to exhume bodies from a mass grave near her village. In that grave, she believes, lies her Republican great-grandfather, who was executed by the Nationalists.

A January 26 editorial in The Guardian newspaper noted that it’s important to continue the work of remembering the Spanish civil war and pointed to the exhumations “sought and performed throughout Spain” in recent years. “More than 100,000 bodies are known to still lie in unmarked graves,” the editorial said, adding that Spain’s “Socialist-led government plans to make new funds and resources available for digs…As work progresses, civil war historians have been able to draw on new sources to better understand the horrors of the time and the specific nature of the fascist terror unleashed across the country.”

The new film adds to the pressures being exerted by the so-called historical memory movement and there are plans to build Spain’s first national museum devoted to the civil war.

The controversy about memory and forgetting issue comes up time and time again with disparate countries.


Memory and forgetting: Coming to terms with a country’s past