SPOILERS: DON’T READ THIS UNTIL YOU’VE SEEN THIS WONDERFUL FILM.
This is an extraordinary film; the bulk of it is the coming of age story of the asthmatic Moncho (a performance by Manuel Lozano to rival Ana Torrent in Spirit of the Beehive) and then, in the final 10 minutes, the Civil War starts. The beautifully presented scenes of a young boy growing up end abruptly; I can’t recall another film that suddenly, and unflinchingly, switches tone so precipitously at the climax. It is an immensely powerful transition, portraying the horrendous nature of Civil War and fascism.
Fernando Fernán Gómez, who plays the teacher who mentors Moncho, played the father in Beehive and so links the films. His performance, like those of all the principals, is brilliant; he sensitively conveys the feelings of a teacher at the end of his career who loves introducing children to the vagaries of life. New German Cinema dealt with W.Germany coming to terms with its Nazi past; Spanish cinema is coming to terms with the country’s fascist history.