If They Tell You That I Fell | Chicago Reader

If They Tell You That I Fell

The narrative frame—a coroner recounting to a nun the notorious past of a dead man—sets the tone for this superb 1984 historical drama by veteran Spanish director Vicente Aranda. An irreverent, romantic, yet deadly serious revision of Barcelona history during and after the civil war, the film spares almost no one: the communist agitators are blindly obedient killers, the Franco fascists are vicious goons, the convents shelter the sexually repressed, and the upper classes are epitomized by a crippled voyeur who pays to watch depraved sex. The exceptions are an ill-starred couple who exude a healthy sensuality (Victoria Abril and Antonio Banderas) and a gang of boys who gleefully ape the war games of the adults. Like Bertolucci and Buñuel, Aranda connects past and present, sex and politics, class privilege and exploitation, while perversely exposing the hypocrisy and ambiguity of every act. Even his protagonist, Java (Jorge Sanz, in a finely modulated performance), is a callow cipher who bends to the political wind. In Aranda?s insular world, the only people worthy of sympathy are women, be they virgins, wives, or whores; in a bold move, he casts Abril as all three.

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