A few months before Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the Spanish Civil War drew to a close. Sparked by a military coup in July 1936, the war culminated three years later in a fascist government that would long outlast its Thousand Year Reich ally, remaining in power until the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1975.
Franco’s passing didn’t bring an end to the injustices of the previous 40 years. By a lop-sided 296-2 vote, Spanish parliamentarians chose to pass The Pact of Forgetting, a law that granted amnesty to any and all citizens, including those who had worked with or on behalf of the fascist regime. The amnesty was absolute: in addition to absolving all political prisoners of their “crimes,” it also left those who had tortured, murdered and kidnapped those prisoners free from prosecution.
El silencio de otros (The Silence of Others, opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, May 24) examines belated efforts to provide a modicum of justice for the victims and their loved ones. Directed by Robert Bahar and Almudena Carracedo, the film follows a group of plaintiffs as they develop a legal strategy allowing charges to be brought against their abusers.
While Spanish law offered no legal remedies, international law provided a possible workaround. If the plaintiffs could find a judge overseas willing to issue indictments for crimes against humanity, the alleged criminals might find themselves in a courtroom despite the parliamentary pact.
Filmed over a period of six years, The Silence of Others details the maddening roadblocks placed in the way of the plaintiffs – a group that grew in size from two in 2010 to a remarkable 311 in 2016. A willing jurist was found in Argentina, but the Spanish government disallowed long-distance video testimony, meaning that elderly witnesses would have to travel over 6,000 miles to make a statement. With most witnesses in their 60s (and many much older), it was clearly in Spain’s interest to delay proceedings as long as possible.
The Silence of Others makes it shockingly clear how little things have changed in Spain since 1975. After the regime collapsed, fascist elements transformed themselves into the right-wing People’s Alliance, which ascended to electoral power in 1996 after rebranding themselves the People’s Party. Franco’s handpicked successor, King Juan Carlos de Borbon, served as head-of-state until his abdication in 2014 – after which the new king, Felipe, urged Spaniards not to “stir up old grudges or open closed wounds.”
Street names continued to bear the names of fascist victories and fascist generals. The remains of thousands of regime victims languished in mass graves, while Franco himself was buried in an ornate memorial (though his exhumation and removal may happen next month). The film shows one of the plaintiffs walking down his street (named after a general who executed 4,000 people in a bullring) to the house where his torturer – and neighbor – still lives.
Symbolically standing in Jerte Valley in western Spain, a group of four statues serve as one of the few memorials to the regime’s victims. The statues – a recurring presence throughout The Silence of Others – were shot full of holes almost as soon as they’d been assembled, after which the sculptor declared his artwork finally complete. Silence, sadly, only documents partial closure for the Spaniards still searching for justice decades after their victimization.