FEATURE - Spanish Civil War film resurrects anarchist flame@
By Joelle Diderich
MADRID, May 8 (Reuter) - Spain's ``libertarias,'' women who
fought in the Republican uprising of 1936, are back in the
limelight after 60 years of oblivion with a new film which
glorifies their feminist spirit and anarchist ideals.
``Libertarias,'' directed by veteran Spanish film maker
Vicente Aranda, tells the story of Maria, a nun who is ousted
from her convent at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and
ends up fighting with a group of anarchist women at the front.
The film has stirred up a past that was stifled under the
dictatorship of General Francisco Franco and subsequently buried
by many Spaniards who preferred not to look back during the
transition to democracy after 1975.
``It's time to throw open windows,'' says Aranda. ``With
``Libertarias' we wanted to contribute, among other things,
towards exorcising this kind of original sin of the Spaniards.
``It's time to tell the Spaniards that there is no reason to
be ashamed of their ancestors, that they committed no greater
crime than wanting to change this world,'' adds the director,
who lived through the civil war as a child.
Aranda's openly partisan vision and his both epic and
intimate portrait of the struggle has generated acres of media
coverage and given the anarchist's ideals a new veneer of
Many surviving militants have travelled from France, a
popular refuge after the victory of Franco's fascist troops in
1939, for emotional reunions with their former ``comrades.''
One of them, Antonia Fontanillas, was a union delegate at a
lithograph workshop when the war broke out on July 19, 1936.
The daughter and granddaughter of anarchists, she had been
steeped in libertarian ideals since childhood and read
controversial magazines which wrote about contraception and
abortion and promoted women's sexual freedom.
In an interview with Reuters, she recalled the first days of
the revolt in Barcelona. ``There were snipers machine-gunning
from the top of church towers and improvised armoured tanks were
rolling down the Ramblas,'' Barcelona's main promenade.
Swept up in the revolutionary fervour, ``La Toni'' decided
to enlist with two other women from the factory, but ran into
strong resistance from male militants.
``They asked us what we could handle -- rifles or small
arms. I said small arms because I thought they would do less
damage,'' Fontanillas said.
Eventually the National Workers' Confederation (CNT) union
signed the women to join an expedition to Mallorca.
``As I knew how my mother would react, I concealed it. I
took a few little things, the minimum, and carried a farewell
letter for my parents over to one of my work colleagues,'' she
The day the expedition was due to leave, her father stormed
into the CNT offices and pleaded with them to let her come home.
Shortly afterwards, all women were withdrawn from the front
and assigned rearguard duties after some reports that they were
spreading venereal diseases among soldiers.
Excluded from the fighting, some of them set up ``Free
Women,'' an organisation with 20,000 members at its peak which
promoted women's emancipation through education. One of its
founding members says ``Free Women'' taught half a million women
to read and write and gave practical job training.
Despite the achievements of the group, many libertarias felt
let down by the failure of their egalitarian dream.
``Their own Republican comrades were relegating them to the
rearguard, to the same tasks which fascism relegated women to:
taking care of their uniforms, of the children, of both their
own and soldiers' parents,'' says writer Carmen Alcalde.
``They passed to a very humiliating second place,'' she
Aranda says he wanted to show this ``double defeat'' of
women, which he finds one of the most interesting aspects of the
``It was a war within a war, the fight to demonstrate that
women were equal to men,'' actress Ariadna Gil, who plays Maria,
told reporters at a screening of the film. ``I suppose there
came the terrible moment when what mattered was winning, but at
the beginning it was about imposing a Utopia before anything
``We are all granddaughters of the libertarias,'' says
Victoria Abril, who plays Floren, a crippled librarian with
anarchist ideals who is sent to the front in Aragon.
But the film does more than tell the story of these women,
most of whom end up raped and murdered by Franco's men. It is a
purge of Spain's past, a blast of fresh air, she says.
``If people feel like throwing up when they come out of this
movie, then that's good,'' Abril told Reuters in an interview.
``People don't want to talk about it because the wounds are
still bleeding -- it's a very difficult toxin to flush out.''
Reuter N:Copyright 1996, Reuters News Service