Spanish director Manuel Huerga (Diario de un astronauta (2008)) is brave enough to provide a frank and unflinching account of one of his country’s darkest periods, namely the 1970s dictatorship of Francisco Franco and the life and times of anarchist and bank-robber Salvador Puig Antich (Daniel Brühl), whose execution in 1974 (based on distinctly dubious evidence provided by the Spanish police after one of their number dies (accidentally?) in a shoot-out involving Antich) ushered in a period of extended civil unrest that brought Spain to democracy.
For myself, I knew nothing of the young firebrand’s story – in fact, the truth behind the narrative is barely known outside Spain. As written by Lluís Arcarazo, from Francesc Escribano’s novel, Brühl as Salvador is cast as both likeable and irrresponsible in roughly equal measure but, as with the similarly oppressed members of his gang, he is a man passionate for change and that the shackles of oppression be removed.
The film opens, dynamically, with the police ambushing Salvador and beating him up – fearing for his life, Antich fires at random, and the detective who takes the bullet dies in hospital. The anarchist’s wounds are not so serious – after recovering in hospital, he is transferred to prison, where he awaits trial and punishment, accompanied by a prison guard, Jesús (Leonardo Sbaraglia), with whom he slowly but surely bonds and his faithful lawyer Oriol Arau (Tristán Ulloa) to whom he recounts his life story. A life that looks set to end only too soon…
Brühl, the star of German gems such as Goodbye Lenin! (2003) and The Edukators (2004) is excellent as Antich, and the film as a whole is a more than competent examination of how wrong things can go under totalitarianism, as well as, in its final reel (which, truly, will stay with you forever) a harrowing indictment of capital punishment. Salvador Puig Antich was only 24 when he died, the last man to be executed in Spain.
134 mins. In Catalan, Spanish and French.