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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2019 Competition

Review: While At War

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- Alejandro Amenábar reconstructs a difficult and decisive moment in Spanish history with his usual sense of precision, but he doesn’t manage to inject the emotion and energy this conflict requires

Review: While At War
Karra Elejalde in While At War

"When I wrote this screenplay, someone advised me - once they’d read it - not to make the film, because I’d make a lot of enemies along the way", revealed Alejandro Amenábar, shortly before one of the special screenings of his new feature While At War [+see also:
trailer
interview: Alejandro Amenábar
film profile
]
, organised for members of Spain’s Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences ahead of the movie’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and its present showcasing in competition at the 67th San Sebastián International Film Festival. "But thanks to the support of my producer, Fernando Bovaira, we followed through with the project and here is the finished product. Now you are the ones who must decide whether it was worth it", he concluded, before receiving his share of applause.

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Already, when filming first began in Salamanca on While At War – which recreates the conflict Miguel de Unamuno lived through in this university town, with his own ideas about supporting the army’s rebellion against the Spanish Republic – it raised a few eyebrows: "Amenábar’s making a film about the civil war?", the most suspicious individuals puzzled. But an incursion into the pages of History by a methodical director who won the Oscar for The Sea Inside [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
isn’t actually that surprising: what, after all, was Agora [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
if not a political (and anti-fanatic) film?

With While At War, Amenábar is staying true to the style which has characterised his career: extremely well measured and calm, as from the very outset with Thesis. As implied by the title of his debut film, his particular brand of cinema is based on meticulous theories and principles which he goes on to develop in his films. The musician and director gathers together a maximum of information on the topics he broaches, he immerses himself in their recesses and their formulae before emerging with a screenplay which supports a given argument. He did it with Regression [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
interview: Alejandro Amenábar
film profile
]
, with Open Your Eyes and now he’s back proving his point once again in a film which tries to hold a mirror up to today’s socio-political situation and the dangerous rise of the far right. It’s a film of denunciation and a warning, therefore, hidden beneath the folds of historical reconstruction.

In order to achieve this, Amenábar hasn’t scrimped on costumes (which come courtesy of Sonia Grande, Woody Allen’s go-to woman), extras or even locations, of which there are a great many, not to mention characterisation, where we find acting talent including the likes of the leading trio Karra Elejalde, Eduard Fernández and Santi Prego, playing Unamuno, General Millán Astray and the future dictator Francisco Franco, respectively. The film’s packaging, therefore, is impeccable. But can the same be said of its content? Unfortunately not. Though immaculate in its workmanship, the film lacks emotion, risk and spontaneity, not to mention suspense, dramatic force and fear in the face of what lies before them. Everything is so meticulously calculated, executed and well thought out, it’s as if it were a doctoral thesis, ideally suited to an audience of wise men and women in a position to pass judgement on the filmmaker’s theory, but boring for those less versed in the area. Now it’s up to the audience – who are (almost) always faithful to the director of The Others – to decide whether it really was worth making this film.

While At War is a Hispanic-Argentine co-production by Mod Producciones, Movistar+, Himenóptero, K&S Films and Mientras dure la guerra A.I.E. The film received financial support from the Spanish ICAA (Ministry for Culture) and from the Argentine National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA), while benefitting from a collaboration with the Salamanca City Council and the University of Salamanca, now in its 8th centenary. Sold worldwide by Film Factory Entertainment, the film will hit Spanish cinemas on 27 September, distributed by Buena Vista International Spain.

(Translated from Spanish)

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