Big Picture Magazine‘s theme for January 2016 is ‘War’. Trying to think of a film that related to ‘war’ in an unusual way, Libertarias / Freedom Fighters (Vicente Aranda, 1996) came to mind – it is set during the Spanish Civil War and focuses on a group of left-wing, anarchist women who are fighting on the front line. I reviewed the film back in 2014 when the London Spanish Film Festival had a retrospective of Vicente Aranda’s work, and I was surprised by how much I liked it because I generally get a ‘flesh peddler’ vibe from a lot of Aranda’s films (caveat: I’ve mainly seen his films from the 1990s and later) but this was a labour of love for the director and a celebration of radical women and political sisterhood.
Anyway, the piece had to fit within one of the standard sections of their website so I had to decide what tack to take with the film. I knew that I wanted to spotlight its treatment of the women. I wouldn’t categorise it as a ‘Lost Classic’ – it is by no means perfect – so it has ended up as a ‘Brilliant Failure’. This category isn’t meant to classify films as disasters but to highlight those films that don’t quite reach greatness but still have plenty to recommend them. For me, the ‘brilliant’ aspect of Libertarias is the way that politically-committed women (who self-identify as feminists) are put front and centre – their relationships with each other do not become secondary to a romantic plot or other aspects of the narrative. The ‘failure’ (or the central flaw) is that the main protagonist (and audience proxy) – María (Ariadna Gil – who I usually like) – is a wet blanket and her subservience runs counter to what the rest of the women embody. But there are other issues with the film. For example, while I was taking screenshots to accompany the piece I got distracted by the camerawork and started to wonder why – when the film is shot in a widescreen format – Aranda often panned between characters rather than cutting shot/reverse shot or simply putting people in the same frame. I don’t have an answer at the moment. Plus, there’s also a sequence where Victoria Abril’s character is seemingly possessed by a spirit which just feels like it’s from an entirely different film. But it was the way that Gil’s character undermines other aspects of the film that particularly irritated me when I first watched it.
Re: screenshots. The image at the top of this post is a promo shot – you will see over at Big Picture Magazine that the image quality on the actual DVD that I have is not very good. I spotted yesterday that the film was reissued last year – as part of Divisa’s initiative to restore and reissue OOP Spanish films – so possibly there is now a better edition available but there is still no subtitled version. So I’m afraid that I’m recommending something that most of you won’t be able to watch.
Click through to Big Picture Magazine to read my piece – Brilliant Failure: Freedom Fighters (Vicente Aranda, 1996).