(More) Spanish Film for Spanish Students

My stint as a voracious consumer of Spanish cinema has drawn to a close. I now own more than two hundred DVDs and Blu-Rays, have seen many more films through RTVE and Spain’s library system.

The stint served me well. Listening is the language skill that matters most in my day-to-day expat life: understanding the Spaniard who tells me on the phone or at the counter, desk, or doctor’s office what papers to bring, what settings to change, what medicine to buy. I understand much more of what’s said to me now, and my DVD collection gets much of the credit.

(Although I wasn’t ready for flicks when I arrived in 2016, as noted in my first post.)

But, a country only produces so many quality movies. I follow the cartelera of new movie releases now, hope to occasionally update the .pdf linked in my first post. Still: this phase of my life feels mostly finished.

So!: a second entry to tell about what didn’t fit into the first one. I’ll do it in categories:


America’s civil war ended in 1865; Spain’s equivalent, almost three-quarters of a century later. The whole subject feels touchier here than related chat in the U.S. No law prevents a Madrid tour guide from offering a Spanish-language Civil War walking tour, but I have seen only a few on the meetup schedule since 2016. (Related English-language tours may be more plentiful.) Politicians agreed on a Pact of Forgetting to put the war and its wounds in the past.

Said pact does not extend to modern cinema; filmmakers can vent onscreen, openly, bitterly, furiously. Movies like Las 13 rosas and Voz dormida almost seethe, can be difficult to watch.

Most of the venting is from the political left. (Unsurprising, given the death toll racked up in the White Terror after the war.) The clueless expat seeking a Francoist perspective — on the Paracuellos massacres, say, or the killing of priests — may be hard pressed to find a movie. La conspiracion and Dragón Rapide may come closest.

LAS 13 ROSAS: Based on the true story of thirteen Republican women executed by a Francoist firing squad.

LA VOZ DORMIDA: A naive young Andalusian moves to Madrid to be close to her imprisoned sister.

LA CONSPIRACIÓN: Nationalist Emilio Mola conspires with fellow officers to launch Spain’s Civil War.

LIBERTARIAS: A nun and prostitute join an anarchist women’s militia in war-torn Barcelona.

DRAGÓN RAPIDE: A blow-by-blow of Nationalist preparations for the Civil War.


ETA, Spain and Spain’s view of ETA changed dramatically in the sixty years after ETA splintered in 1959 from an underground student protest group. An acquaintance remembers clandestine toasts to ETA in 1974, after ETA assassinated Luis Carrero Blanco, Franco’s likely successor. Might the armed Basque separatist etarras rescue Spain from the dictatorship?

Franco died in 1975; the dictatorship, shortly afterward. Spain’s new democracy and amnesty offers convinced ETA’s more moderate members to abandon the group. The remaining fanatics inherited an organization that knew how to capture funds and wage guerrilla war. They murdered and maimed hundreds of innocents and terrorized Spain for decades afterward.

OPERACIÓN OGRO: A fictionalized account of ETA’s assassination of Carrero Blanco.

LA FUGA DE SEGOVIA: A fictionalized account of ETA’s 1976 escape from Segovia prison.

DÍAS CONTADOS: An etarra falls in love with a prostitute while planning a terrorist attack in Madrid.

YOYES: The life and murder of Yoyes (María Dolores Katarain), a true-life former etarra who dared to return to her native Basque country.

EL LOBO: A fictionalized account of Mikel Lejarza‘s infiltration into ETA’s leadership.

LEJOS DEL MAR: A doctor meets the repentant former etarra who murdered her father.

MAIXABEL: A fictionalized account of Maixabel Lasa‘s encounter with her husband’s murderer.

The first two films, released four and six years after Franco’s death, respectively, portray ETA generously, even sympathetically. No later film does.

I know many Spaniards who also saw and enjoyed Patria, an eight episode, 2020 HBO series about Basque families torn by ETA. I bought the discs. Patria is well-made, but offers no meaningful political content about a theme charged with political significance. Three minutes of Operación Ogro (from 7:10 to 10:23) tell more about the milieu that begot ETA than all eight episodes of Patria.


A comedy, drama or documentary about Basque actors typecast as etarras.


Cops, crooks, guns, violence, murder, mayhem, ketchup. Three excellent examples of Spain’s take on this genre:

NO HABRÁ PAZ PARA LOS MALVADOS: A corrupt, alcoholic cop murders innocents in a bar, then wanders into a terrorist cell while tracking an eyewitness.

QUE DIOS NOS PERDONE: Two psychologically-troubled Madrid detectives pursue a serial killer.

LA CAJA 507: Papers found in safe deposit box 507 during a bank robbery reveal an elaborate land acquisition scheme on Spain’s coast.


My first post omitted titles likely to put off some readers. I begin with the most notorious, known to virtually all adult Spaniards and perhaps hated by a third:

TORRENTE I: Obese, drunken, racist, sexually suspect “Officer” Torrente pursues a Madrid drug gang. A representative  sample. (¿Nos hacemos unas pajillas? refers to mutual masturbation.)

Please stick with Torrente I only, if you choose to see this movie. Not Torrente II, or III, or any of the sequels. Torrente I only. Please.

ACCIÓN MUTANTE: Futuristic urban guerrillas transport a kidnapped heiress to a barren planet in the galaxy’s quinto pino.

HABLE CON ELLA: Loner Benigno hires on at a hospital to care for a love object rendered comatose by a car accident.

LA PIEL QUE HABITO: A psychopathic surgeon kidnaps and experiments with the innocent he wrongly suspects of raping his daughter.

OBRA MAESTRA: Two amateur cinephiles kidnap a starlet to film their magnum opus in Super8.


ÚLTIMOS TESTIGOS: Separate interviews with Santiago Carrillo, Spain communist leader during the Civil War, and Manuel Fraga, Popular Party founder and a major figure in the growth of Spain’s tourism industry.

ASIER Y YO: Aitor Merino and Asier Aranguren were boyhood chums in northern Spain. Merino became a Madrid actor and filmmaker; Aranguren joined ETA. Asier y yo tells the before and after.

LA PELOTA VASCA: Interviews with victims, adversaries and sympathizers of the political and guerrilla independence movement in the Basque Country. Includes segments with the real-life Maixabel Lasa of the fictionalized Maixabel, above.

EL SILENCIO DE OTROS: Political victims of the Spain dictatorship vie for recognition and justice decades after Franco’s death. Includes segments on the Pact of Forgetting and Billy el Niño, a Franco-era police inspector charged with multiple counts of torture.

SPAIN IN A DAY: Slices of life from a single date — October 24, 2015 — as recorded in hundreds of curated amateur videos. All Spanish, despite the English movie title.


… is a vintage Spanish film genre. I didn’t read about it; I deduced that such a genre had to exist. Bear with me:

‘I have a movie recommendation for you, Tim,’ said P. ‘Deprisa, deprisa. A classic! Look it up!’

I did that evening, discovered an 80s movie about happy-go-lucky teens who commit crimes and torment innocents. I shuddered, closed the browser, but reminded myself that P. and I are only friendly conocidos, not chums. I wouldn’t share my opinion.

Our paths crossed again a few weeks later. P. is in his sixties, often wears a leather jacket festooned with buttons and badges of La Movida, the hedonistic, post-Franco era that was both P.’s life apex and downfall. P. partook, too eagerly, succumbed to addiction.

P. had another movie recommendation:

Historias del Kronen!’ P. may have nodded at my móvil, to be sure I’d jot down the title. ‘A great, great movie, Tim. Don’t miss it.’

Historias‘ turned out to be less objectionable than Deprisa, but still mostly a saga of the aimless intoxications and fornications of Madrid’s dissolute young. ‘What did P. think of me for recommending this swill!?’ I wondered … but, again, chose to do my wondering alone.

A pattern had been set. Our chats had struck a nostalgic chord in P., had encouraged him to reminisce about festive evenings in the long-shuttered movie palaces of his Madrid salad days. He now regularly met me with recommendations, one after another, all hideous. The titles were so consistently vile that I finally glimpsed the linking thread.

‘P.,’ asked I, at last, ‘do these movies belong to a genre? A type?’

This was how I learned of Cine Quinqui. Historically significant, perhaps, for anyone interested in the nihilistic, amoral mindset of some Madrid young in the wake of the dictatorship. Feel free to donate your collection to another blogger.


All iterations of Harry el sucio. This series is regarded as something less than fine art in the U.S. (Trust me). Spain, you don’t want to know how the dubbed version appears to an American. Does the monarchy permit a royal ban? Can the Constitution be edited to allow one? Worth the effort.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.