Kevin Doyle Blog

Writing and activism

Review: Death In El Valle and Franco’s Victims

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I came across Death In El Valle while researching the work of the Association For the Recovery of Historical Memory . The ARMH has been collecting information about the victims of Franco’s Spain since its foundation in 2000.  It has played a major role in identifying many mass execution sites and has instituted legal moves to have these sites excavated and the remains of those found identified and given proper burials.  It is safe to say that their work has gone a long way towards uncovering the real horror that was Franco’s Spain.

Death In El Valle is  a documentary, in Spanish and English, by US photographer CM Hardt about the  particular circumstances of her grandfather’s death.  CM Hardt’s was born in the United States of Spanish parents.  She returned to Spain over the years with her parents to see her grandmother and her wider extended family.  It was via these visits that she heard about the death of her grandfather whom, it seems, was involved in the resistance movement that lived on in Spain well after the Civil War itself had ended.  Intrigued she made inquiries and learned that her grandfather was betrayed by a local villager and died not long after his arrest.  However she wasn’t able to find out much more than that.

The documentary is a record of her journey to uncover the truth.  Gradually she finds out exactly what happened, how and, for the most part, why.  She is particularly interested – naturally enough – in who might have betrayed her grandfather and a share of the documentary focuses on finding out more about this – to no real avail. Fingers are pointed and rumours abound but there is no definitive answer.  Instead, Hardt discovers the name of Guardia Civil officer who was present on the night her grandfather was murdered.  It emerges that it was an extra judicial execution.  Her grandfather was told to run and then shot for trying to escape.

Franco's Victims

Franco’s Spain and present, modern-day Spain collide in the meeting between Hardt and the now retired policeman.   Like many Spaniards this policeman lives in an apartment block in a busy residential area.  He could be any man that you meet anywhere in Spain except that he has an ugly past to hide.  At first, he is forthcoming about the general events of that night.  He is a bit surprised, it must be said, to be confronted by the victim’s granddaughter.   But as Hardt attempts to pry further, to find out more, he clams up.  Subsequently, he refuses to meet her again.

Death In El Valle is let down by its narrow focus.  The context of what was really at stake in Spain during the Civil War is not explored.   True, many people know about the general outline of the Civil War and why it happened, but there is no wider exploration of what forces were at play.  We are left with the very nebulous description – beloved of the middle stream – that the Spanish Civil War was about ‘saving democracy’.  In fact it was a great deal more.  See here for more.  Properly speaking the Civil War and its aftermath was about defeating a revolution – regarded by many as perhaps the most thoroughgoing social revolution ever seen on this planet.   In response Franco and his forces attempted to ‘eradicate’ the left (across the spectrum).  It was a ferocious and unforgiving assault – the after effects of which are still being felt.

Nonetheless Death In El Valle is engaging and provocative.  It is well produced and moving: the fact that it is a record of a real journey of investigation gives it an extra edge.   It is disturbing too though.  As anyone who has attempted this sort of thing will testify, unearthing the past seems like a straightforward quest until one actually goes about it.   The realities of Franco’s Spain adds a whole other dimension of difficulty to Hardt’s endeavour.  As Death In El Valle amply shows, today in Spain, there are many who are fearful of that time and what they did to survive .  There are also plenty of others who just want to forget the period and how awful it was.

For further information on both the documentary and its director, as well as information on how to acquire a copy of the DVD, see the links above.  Promotional clips from Death In El Valle are here

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  1. […] Review: Death In El Valle and Franco’s Victims (kfdoyle.wordpress.com) […]


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