Amazing drama about the brutalising effects of war.
This is a wonderful film. Its two main protagonists are Rafael, an 18 year-old innocent and Colonel Masagual, a battle-hardened veteran with a limp and an addiction to heroin (perfectly feasible - Hermann Goering became addicted after being wounded in the 1923 Munich putsch).
It is 1936 and the Spanish Civil War is breaking out. Rafael's officer father calls him back to Spain to fight for the Nationalist cause. Educated at a private religious college in France, Rafael is the dutiful scion of an upper class family, a pious and aescetic Catholic.
The film charts his loss of innocence. Firstly, he loses his virginity to an upper-class English lady who is in Spain to support the Nationalists. Her main role in the film is as a foil - her feminine softness contrasts with the brutalising process of Rafael's induction into the army. His ultimate rape of her confirms his descent into the barbaric requirements of war. However, Rafael redeems himself by allowing a young female hostage to escape execution.
Jean-Louis Trintignant's Colonel Masagual is a tour de force. His character dominates the film and supplies it with dramatic tension. A friend of Rafael's father, Masagual assigns Rafael to a firing squad detail to toughen him up. Masagual is a complex man - effeminate in his personal grooming habits and having a relationship with his young aide de camp which is familiar enough to suggest homosexuality. Masagual is a great philosophiser whose favourite word is 'con' (pr-ck or c-nt in English). Everyone is a 'con'. The Nationalists will win the war because they are bigger 'cons' than the Reds. He is willing to execute anyone regardless of age or gender. War exists to stop people like himself becoming bored. He lambasts a Basque priest for fighting on the wrong side - does he not realise that the Church is on the side of the rich, not the poor?! This character is not entirely convincing - with his cynical and abusive take on the world, he is almost a Freethinker. The character is a used as a vehicle to explore the wider ramifications of war and Spanish fascism.
Politics do not intrude greatly into this film. The Nationalists express contempt for the France of the Popular Front. There is reference to the atrocities being carried out by the Reds in Barcelona. Masagual contrasts the 'humane and honourable' executions under his own regular army command with the 'butchery' of the Carlist and Falangist irregulars just outside town. The film is not so much a critique of Spanish fascism as an indictment of the brutalising effects of war in general.
Executions give Rafael his baptism in blood. He reacts badly, survives, rapes and then redeems himself by letting the girl hostage go free. We see him for the last time heading for the front line, innocence lost and with a traumatised expression on his face. Gregoire Colin gives a remarkable performance in this role.
'Fiesta' deserves a much wider recognition. The film's title belies its subject matter. The acting, script and screenplay are all excellent and the music is very compelling.
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