Eleven must-watch films about the Spanish Civil War

Spain is still struggling to come to terms with the 1936-1939 conflict that divided society and left scars that are still felt more than 80 years later. And cinema is still trying to make sense of it.

Eleven must-watch films about the Spanish Civil War
Ken Loach's Land and Freedom examines life in the International Brigades.

During the ensuing 35-year-dictatorship of General Francisco Franco cinema was used as a propaganda machine churning out stories which venerated church, state, and the victory of Franco’s forces over communism.

But in the years since El Caudillo died in 1975, it is a period that has fascinated Spanish and foreign filmmakers, some dramatising true stories and others using the conflict as a backdrop.

Here is a selection of some of the best films that tell us something about the wrenching upheaval of that wartime period.

Freedomfighters (Libertarias, 1996)

Director Vicente Aranda sets his film centering on the lives of women in Barcelona at the outbreak of civil war. Maria, a young nun, joins a local feminist militia fighting against Franco’s forces and, mixing with anarchists, prostitutes and discovers the social injustices of life beyond sheltered cloisters and what it means to be a woman.

Butterfly Tongue (La Lengua De Las Mariposas, 1999)

A poignant coming of age film set in rural Galicia traces the friendship between schoolboy Moncho and his anarchist-leaning teacher, Don Gregorio, in the months leading up to the uprising by General Franco. As political tensions grow, village life becomes overshadowed by fear, brutality and the horror of impending war.

Land And Freedom (Tierra y Libertad, 1995)

Ken Loach’s critically acclaimed film focuses on the International Brigades, that group of idealistic young foreigners determined to fight fascism. Following the journey of a young British communist from the frontline where he is wounded to Barcelona, the film reveals the bitter internal struggles within the republican movement that ultimately assisted the fascists’ victory.

¡Ay, Carmela! (1990)

A comedy by Carlos Saura, set in 1938. ¡Ay, Carmela! follows a travelling theatre company who are captured by Fascist forces after inadvertently crossing into hostile territory. Offered the chance of release if they’ll perform for fascist soldiers, the film raises the question of just how far one will compromise beliefs for the sake of survival.

 The Soldiers of Salamis (Soldados de Salamina, 2003)

David Trueba’s film adaptation of the best-selling novel Soldados de Salamina by Javier Cercas tells the story of a journalist commissioned to write about a Falangist writer who escaped the firing squad. As she researches the story she learns just how closely the past is wrapped up in the present on a search for truth that becomes a quest of self-discovery. Nominated for 8 Goya awards, it won best cinematography.

There Be Dragons (Encontrarás dragones, 2011)

British writer-director Roland Joffé explored themes of faith, friendship, love and betrayal in his story about a journalist investigating a recently canonised priest and discovers his own family’s dark connections with the past.

The Sleeping Voice (La Voz Dormida, 2011)

The critically acclaimed film by director Benito Zambrano follows the fate of two sisters in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Pregnant Hortensia is thrown in a Madrid jail after Franco’s forces catch her trying to help her Republican husband and the story charts her sister’s battle to save her from the firing squad and ensure the child remains with the family and isn’t put up for adoption or into an orphanage.

Based on the novel by Dulce Chacón, which won the 2003 Spanish Book of the Year.

Belle Epoque (1993)

Director Fernando Trueba’s romantic comedy set in the run up to the Spanish Civil War won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1993. Starring a youthful Penelope Cruz as one of four sisters who compete for the heart of Fernando (Jorge Sanze), a deserter from the Nationalist army who goes on the run in rural Spain and hides out with Republican leaning painter and his family.

The Heifer (La Vaquilla, 1985)

The first comedy to be written about the Spanish Civil War, Luis García Berlanga’s La Vaquilla (The Heifer) is set on the frontline in Aragon and tells the slapstick tale of a misguided plan by Repubican soldiers to disrupt a fiesta planned by Nationalists. The platoon plot to sneak into enemy territory and steal away the bull destined for the enemy’s celebratory bullfight, not only to score a minor victory and destroy morale but because they are starving and crave meat.

The 13 Roses (Las 13 Rosas, 2007)

Based on a true-life story of 13 women sentenced to death by a military court for crimes they didn’t commit, this film directed by Emilio Martínez Lázaro is set in the first days of the Franco dictatorship when those with even dubious links to the Republican cause were rooted out and punished.

While the War Lasts (Mientras Dure la Guerra) 2019)

Acclaimed director Alejandro Amenábar is behind this portrait of the Civil War seen from the perspective of one of the greatest Spanish writers of his time, Miguel de Unamuno, who controversially supported the military coup.

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Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Many foreigners in Spain complain that the streets are full of dog faeces, but is that actually true and what, if anything, is being done to address it?

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Spain is a nation of dog lovers.

According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), 40 percent of Spanish households have a dog.

In fact, believe it or not, the Spanish have more dogs than they do children.

While there are a little over 6 million children under the age of 14 in Spain, there are over 7 million registered dogs in the country. 

But one bugbear of many foreigners in Spain is that there’s often a lot of dog mess in the streets, squares and parks.

The latest estimates suggest it’s as much as 675,000 tonnes of doodoo that has to be cleaned up every year in Spain.

Many dog owners in Spain carry around a bottle of water mixed with detergent or vinegar to clean up their dog’s urine and small plastic bags to pick up number twos.

And yet, many owners seem to either turn a blind eye to their pooches’ poo or somehow miss that their pets have just pooed, judging by the frequency with which dog sh*t smears Spanish pavements. 

So how true is it that Spain has a dog poo problem? Is there actually more dog mess in Spain than in other countries, and if not, why does it seem that way?

One contextual factor worth considering when understanding the quantity of caca in Spain’s calles is how Spaniards themselves actually live.

When one remembers that Spaniards mostly live in apartments without their own gardens, it becomes less surprising that it feels as though there’s a lot of dog mess in the streets. Whereas around 87 percent of households in Britain have a garden, the number in Spain is below 30 percent.

Simply put, a nation of dog lovers without gardens could mean more mess in the streets. 

Whereas Britons often just let their dogs out into their garden to do their business, or when they can’t be bothered to take them for a walk even, Spaniards have to take them out into the street, unless they’re okay with their pooches soiling their homes. 

There aren’t many dog-friendly beaches in Spain, and the fact that on those that do exist, some owners don’t clean up their dogs’ mess, doesn’t strengthen the case for more ‘playas para perros‘ to be added. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP)

Doggy dirt left in the streets is most certainly not a Spain-specific problem either, but rather an urban one found around the world.

In recent years, there have been complaints about the sheer abundance of canine faecal matter left in public spaces in Paris, Naples, Rome, Jerusalem, Glasgow, Toronto, London, San Francisco and so on.

READ ALSO: Why do some Spanish homes have bottles of water outside their door?

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a worldwide study to shed light on which cities and countries have the biggest ‘poo-blem’, with the available investigations mainly centred on individual nations, such as this one by Protect my Paws in the US and UK

And while it may be more noticeable in Spain than in some countries, it doesn’t mean the Spanish are doing nothing about it.

In fact, Barcelona has been named the third best city in Europe for dealing with the problem, according to a study by pet brand

Although Barcelona’s score of 53/80 was significantly lower than many British cities (Newcastle scored 68/80 and Manchester 66/80, for example) its hefty fines of 1,500 for dog owners caught not cleaning up after their canine friends might be a reason. 

And some parts of Spain take it even more seriously than that.

In many Spanish regions doggy databases have been created to catch the culprits. Over 35 Spanish municipalities require dog owners to register their pets’ saliva or blood sample on a genetic database so they can be traced and fined, if necessary. 

In Madrid, you are twice as likely to come across someone walking a dog than with a baby’s stroller. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

This DNA trick started earlier in Spain than in many other countries; the town of Brunete outside of Madrid kicked off the trend in 2013 by mailing the ‘forgotten’ poo to neglectful owners’ addresses. Some municipalities have also hired detectives to catch wrongdoers.

So it’s not as if dog poo doesn’t bother Spaniards, with a 2021 survey by consumer watchdog OCU finding that it’s the type of dirt or litter found in the streets than bothers most people.

READ ALSO: Clean or dirty? How does your city rank on Spain’s cleanliness scale? 

It’s therefore not a part of Spanish culture not to clean up after dogs, but rather a combination of Spain’s propensity for outdoor and urban living, the sheer number of dogs, and of course the lack of civic duty on the part of a select few. Every country has them. 

On a final note, not all dog owners in Spain who don’t clean up after their pooches can be blamed for doing it deliberately, but it’s certainly true that looking at one’s phone rather than interacting with your dog, or walking with your dog off the leash (also illegal except for in designated areas) isn’t going to help you spot when your pooch has done its business.

Article by Conor Faulkner and Alex Dunham