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Warning bell tolled

by
01 August 2014

by Stephen Brown

iStock

DOWN Alice's rabbit hole, via a TARDIS (Doctor Who), or in a DeLorean (Back to the Future): time-travel stories create a fish-out-of-water scenario in which ancient customs conflict with modernways. The Year and the Vineyard (El Ano y la Vina) (Cert. 15) is one of these.

It is Spain, 1937. Andrea Pesce (Andrea Calabrese) is a member of the Garibaldi Legion with the International Brigade, in the Civil War against Fascism. During the Battle of Guadalajara, he disappears down a hole in time, leaving behind his beloved Isabella (Laura Drewett) and their Sicilian comrades.

Pesce lands clumsily in 2012, crushing crops in a Salamanca vineyard. It is a place where time appears to have stood still. Vines such as these were being cultivated centuries before 2012, and in much the same way. In effect, Pesce moves out of specific historical events and into something that has a ring of eternity about it.

An eccentric priest, played in slightly too overwrought a manner by Javier Saez, considers Pesce to be an angel. And so Pesce is, in a sense; for he is a messenger from the past, warning the present not to repeat the Civil War's mistakes. He and the priest differ about the presence or absence of God. Pesce, having seen terrible things, says: "In war thereis no God," to which the priest replies: "God is everywhere." "In that case," retorts Andrea, "he was asleep."

The relaxed Salamancan peasants are challenged to be vigilant for situations that threaten peaceful coexistence, as they did in 1930s Spain. Unfortunately, after the atrocities that he witnessed when fighting at that time, Pesce is lulled into believing that present-day Spain has none of yesteryear's problems.

The film colludes with this point of view. Idyllic landscapes, gentle comedy, an uplifting soundtrack, and attractive personalities are presented to us as a contemporary norm. Questioning the validity of this is left to the audience. People still hate, do dreadful things to one another, and act unjustly; and yet none of this is explored. Instead of the past helping the present to do better, the director, Jonathan Cenzual Burley, has it the other way round.

Pesce wrestles with whether to remain in the relative peacefulness of today or return to the Guadalajara of 1937. He now knows that the Republicans managed to win that battle, but lost the war. Faced with the existentialist question whether any of us makes a difference to the way history unfolds, he must decide whether to settle for the personal satisfaction of being reunited with Isabella, for which fruitless endeavour against Franco's Nationalists is the price.

Whether he go or stay, the encounters with his clerical companion have convinced him that you shouldn't kill priests. Thousands were murdered during the Spanish Civil War, not least because they were frequently seen as supporting the conservative Nationalist agenda. Pesce comes to believe that Roman Catholicism is not to blame for Fascist oppression. Some historians and viewers may disagree. Pesce prefers to harbour affection for individual clerics whom he knows rather than demonise collectively those he doesn't.

The film examines a great tragedy on a human scale rather than reflect on the vast social movements in which people become engulfed.War and Peace has been criticised for this reason, too. I have a feeling that Tolstoy pulls it off,but Jonathan Cenzual Burley fails to.

After a limited theatrical release, now available on DVD.

 

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