Maquis in the city: Spain’s postwar and the urban guerrilla

Clearly the film Pan’s labyrinth/El laberinto del fauno (2006) by director Guillermo del Toro brought a new generation into studies of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the postwar Franco dictatorship–when I teach the Spanish civilization and culture course I find that almost the entire class has already seen it. (Will Alex de la Iglesia’s film Balada triste de trompeta/The Last Circus have the same effect? probably not, but I like it more and more the more time passes since having seen that one–the best film on the Spanish postwar period continues to be El espíritu de la colmena/The Spirit of the Beehive by Víctor Érice…going on 10 viewings and it only gets better each time).

In Pan’s labyrinth, the character Mercedes has a brother in the resistance during the postwar period, living with a large (too large I’m told…) group in the woods surrounding a small village where the film’s action takes place, making raids, stealing supplies and often suffering the consequences during the years that were known as the ‘Years of Hunger/Años de hambre). Here we have a vision of the Maquis with which students can connect.

The textbook I usually use for the class (Hispanists will know which one it is–perhaps not for much longer?) has merely a sentence or two on the Maquis (p. 398 of the 6th edition), which it describes as ‘guerrilla bands that passed over the French border, armed and trained in France” engaged in resistance to the regime (or as the author puts it “hostility”). This is a figure with a relatively strong presence in Spanish film (is the unnamed visitor in The Spirit of the Beehive a maquis?…) In many (filmic) cases, maquis wage their “resistance/hostility” in largely rural areas, but of course noted Spanish Civil War scholar Paul Preston points out in the anthology Spanish Cultural Studies: An Introduction (Ed. Graham and Labanyi) that

“There was also an urban guerrilla which went on sporadically until the end of the 1950s. In Madrid and its environs, a hero of the French Resistance, Cristino García, together with one of the PCE’s earliest leaders, Gabriel León Trilla, headed a Communist guerrilla group […] The activities of this group consisted of bank robberies and attacks on Falangist offices but they provoked waves of arrests on a scale which led them to being considered counter-productive” (235; in Barcelona he mentions Talión, Los Maños and Francisco Sabaté or José Luis Facerías).

Here’s the question: is there a film (a good film) where these sorts of urban guerrilla stories of the postwar have been told (told well)?

2 thoughts on “Maquis in the city: Spain’s postwar and the urban guerrilla

  1. Of French films on the subject, the recent “L’Armée du crime” (2009) first comes to mind; “Lucie Aubrac” takes place in Lyon and depicts the occupied city well; there have also been films set in Paris showing ‘scenes’ from the last days of Occupation (i.e. “Paris brûle-t-il?”). Jugnot’s “M. Batignolle” is an urban escape narrative, two Jewish children are taken to the Swiss border. That said, other ‘Resistance tropes’ seem to trump the urban aspect: exploding trains and other partisan actions, betrayal & capture, and torture scenes, etc. Certainly an interesting dimension to consider…

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