The absurdity and paranoia of war
by Alfonso Rivera
- Gerardo Herrero has adapted a thriller novel centred on the División Azul, that army of volunteers sent by Franco to fight on the Russian front during World War II.
For his fifteenth directorial film, the producer behind Juan José Campanella’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner The Secret in Their Eyes [+see also:
Interview Juan José Campanella [IT]
Interview Ricardo Darín [IT]
Interview Soledad Villemin [IT]
film profile], and more than a hundred titles by European directors including Alain Tanner, Manoel de Oliveira and Ken Loach, as well as Latin Americans like Arturo Ripstein, Marcelo Piñeyro and Francisco J. Lombardi, has tackled the challenge of putting into images Ignacio del Valle’s gripping novel The Time of the Strange Emperors. Gerado Herrero is already experienced in adapting books for the big screen, for he also helmed, among others, Malena Is a Name From a Tango (based on a book by Almudena Grandes), Comanche Territory (Arturo Pérez Reverte) and My Friends’ Reasons (Belén Gopegui).
This time, Herrero took his technical and artistic team to the frozen landscapes of Lithuania to recreate the customs, a climate and an era dominated by madness, paranoia and distrust. In those icy surroundings, a crime takes place: a soldier is found murdered, with a mysterious inscription etched with the blade of a knife on his chest: “Watch out, God is watching you”. It looks like the beginning of a song, which other corpses will gradually complete. The military authorities entrust the internal investigation to soldier Arturo Andrade (Juan Diego Botto), a republican police inspector in his civilian days, who will be assisted by Sergeant Estrada (Carmelo Gómez), who is a supporter of Franco. Both men will have to leave aside their political differences in order to confront an enemy that is hidden among them, while all around explode the bombs of a conflict that claims many more lives than this serial killer.
This rottenness in the form of a serial killer that destroys the División Azul from within symbolises the stupidity that is an intrinsic part of any conflict. Because the División Azul sent by General Franco to fight alongside the Germans brought together volunteers from all backgrounds, motivated by a variety of reasons: for some men it was an adventure, for others, a way of escaping or washing away sins, even fleeing from hunger, and some were politically conscious. So the tension could be felt not only on the battlefield, but even in the barrack quarters.
Herrero has emphasised the inhumane coldness of the fighting conditions that took men to the edge of their physical and psychological limits. He also portrays the camaraderie that ends up forming between two men who have to work together even though, on the face of it, they have nothing in common, something we’ve seen in many buddy movies (Seven is an obvious reference here). He rounds off his approach with an atmosphere that is rarefied and marred not only because of the murders that reek of revenge, sadism and depravity, but also the little attachment to life of some soldiers, the internal corruption of the troops, the solitude devoid of feelings that is suffered in such circumstances and the desperate search for answers to something that has no reason to be.
Frozen Silence [+see also:
interview: Gerardo Herrero
film profile], which closes with some real photographs of the División Azul, opens with an arresting image: a snow-covered landscape dominated by some frozen horses, like warped statues trapped in a lake. It is an image at once fascinating, very beautiful and terrifying, which seems unreal but is tremendously cruel.
(Translated from Spanish)