Beautifully weaving through the lives of 13 young women, this movie brings to the screen an amazing portrayal of what war does to people and at the same time, what war couldn't do to the simple girlish souls of these lovely women (I am suddenly in love with Spaniards especially after I got to spend a wonderful week with one of them who was more Indian than any Indian I knew). This movie, directed by Emilio Martínez Lázaro, was the most spectacular thing that happened to me on a Monday evening. Last night, I returned home feeling the beauty of creativity, of completeness, of respect accorded to an art and smiled all the way back and even at unwary pedestrians.
Las 13 Rosas (and my sister hates it when I pronounce Spanish/Mexican words in an accent of that region) is about the lives of 13 women (mostly minors) who hold idealistic views about freedom and dignity and how they end up getting framed for a crime they did not commit and sent to the firing squad. The entire movie takes place in the rising Franco regime and depicts how people are ill-treated by soldiers and the police, how suspicion and baseness rules under the fear of death and torture. The movie is not all sad and there are happy and cheerful moments, but the seriousness of the movie is not lost. Some of these women are loved by men who either die with them or who leave them in their hour of need or are left behind. The love painted is always tender and sweet. In a truly Mediterranean spirit, love is not shown as vulgar or petty but human ideologies and honour are up for examination.
I simply loved the tenderness of the movie and the entire cast and screenplay. The women and men are common, simple and lovers. They care about the basic things of life but hold ideals which aren't challenged in meaningful ways but by Fascist regimes (of Franco). Their idealism is revealed in their rather stupid and unplanned act of distributing pamphlets where a lot of them are caught and taken into custody. Julia (pronounced Hulia) was portrayed beautifully by Veronica Sanchez and I loved the helplessness that Blanca brought to the story. She and her husband are sent to prison because they gave their own money to a friend who had to escape Madrid. She keeps repeating that it is a mistake (their arrest) for which the warden (who comes across as a very caring person or as a lesbian or both) remarks, "Quite possible. With so many people arrested and detained here, I am sure a few mistakes are to be expected." The triviality of life stands out in that one statement. The warden performed her role brilliantly. Somehow this movie centres around women but doesn't get desperately women's-lib or sympathetic on matters that would dilute the tone of the movie. When Blanca and Virtudes (Marta Etura) break down in the chapel is heart-rending. Blanca's husband and Virtudes' boyfriend are also one of the 43 sentenced to the firing squad. The women are busy writing their last letters to their family when they hear gunshots in the distance. Suddenly it sinks on them that their lovers have been shot and they break down. This whole scene with the same realisation on the other women's faces was brilliantly captured. Virtudes tries to console Carmen on their last night together as friends but is clearly consoling herself. She asks Carmen to be brave and not forget this night to which Carmen replies, "How could I? It would be like forgetting you!" and Virtudes realises what she was actually asking of Carmen and says, "Yes, Don't forget me." The dialogues throughout the movie are plain but very tender and heart-felt.
The scene where Adelina's father (who actually hands her over to the police out of a sense of duty) meets her in the jail and hands her a note saying "Te Quiero" (written in quite a boyish handwriting) when he had never said that he loves her in all her life with him, was touching. Adelina mentions to her boyfriend that her father is very duty-conscious and has never said that he loves her, to which the boyfriend replies that there is nothing more that he would like to say to her.
The scenes in the torture room were cringe-worthy (and the audience - mostly grey haired gents which made me wonder what happened to all the "educated" youngsters of this generation - would exclaim every time Gaspar would enter with his boxing gloves) and the scene where the police chief puts out his cigarette on Julia's nipple really made me double over and cry "Ouch". The whole movie retained the rustic touch of Madrid but brought a seriousness to the scene which wasn't missed. The scenes in the jailhouse where the girls sing and dance and play pranks unmindful of the fact that they are in jail are truly joyous and reminds one of Life is Beautiful. Actually the entire jailhouse made me look for that nasty prisoner and the like only to realise that all these people were jailed for being just and honest. No black-toothed boxing lady to expect amongst them!! Even when they are taken to the military court, Julia comes up with a random idea of it being lucky if everyone wore something that was borrowed. Suddenly the truck erupts in a raucous chatter and giggle piece where everyone is lending some piece of clothing to the other girl and taking some nice (and matching) piece of clothing from the other. All of this, being done under the watchful eyes of two soldiers!
In summary, this is a movie that must be watched. Please find time to buy/borrow/share the DVD of this movie. It is worth it. Or join a movie club in your city (like the ICAF, in mine) and beg/bribe them to screen this movie! :-)