This 2017 video says about itself:
Trailer: Un exilio: película familiar (In exile: a family film)
The wrongly-termed Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) left more than a million dead and over 500 thousand refugees, of which some 20 thousand are taken in by Mexico. Among them were the filmmaker’s grandparents, parents, aunt, and some of their friends. A tragedy of epic dimension that turned into the eventful stories of survival and venture the protagonists lived through and recall, intertwined with the shared history of Spain and Mexico in the XXth century –and beyond.
By Kevin Mitchell:
23 June 2018
Directed by Juan Francisco Urrusti
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), which ultimately resulted in the victory of Francisco Franco’s fascist forces, claimed the lives of over 1 million people and turned 500,000 more into refugees. Of these half a million, some 20,000 found refuge in Mexico under the left-nationalist government of Lázaro Cardenas. As the far-right gains strength in Europe and refugees scour the globe in search of asylum, the lessons of these past historical experiences today take on fresh urgency.
From Mexican documentarian Juan Francisco Urrusti (born 1954) comes In Exile: A Family Film, which traces the story of his grandparents and parents as they live and fight during the Spanish Civil War and later become political exiles in Mexico. It is an engrossing work, combining family home movies and photos with newsreel footage and contemporary interviews with the director’s family and their milieu in modern-day Mexico and Spain.
The viewer is left with an indelible portrait of not only the times but of the human beings who fought fascism and strove to create a better world in the first several decades of the last century. Though not without significant limitations, In Exile is a powerful reminder that the great questions of war and authoritarianism that defined the 1930s and 1940s are alive and well today.
In Exile starts with an overview of Spain in the early 20th century. In the words of one interviewee, “the heinous Spanish clergy” controlled everything. Heinous and wealthy. In the midst of the opulence of the clergy and the ruling elite as a whole, however, the vast majority of the Spanish population lived in extreme poverty. One interviewee observes that in Spain the rural proletariat “toiled in the fields from dawn till dusk.” In the factories, 12-hour shifts were commonplace.
By the 1920s Spain was ruled by Miguel Primo de Rivera, a right-wing general who dominated the country as a dictator. His authoritarian rule helped discredit the Spanish ruling class, and other figures and parties began to contest for power. We see footage of Francisco Largo Caballero who was the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and later prime minister of the Second Spanish Republic.
Unfortunately, much more could have been said about these political figures and parties, and the viewer is largely left to fill in the blanks. What is one to think when one of Urrusti’s interviewees says “I believe the Socialist Party back then was a lot different from the Socialist Party of today”? This (under)statement is true enough when one considers the extreme right-wing trajectory of the PSOE, but, unhappily, there is no elaboration.
Also problematic is the use of the term “liberal democracy” to describe Spain’s Second Republic, which came to power in 1931 after the collapse of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and the exile of King Alfonso XIII. Spanish capitalism, under the impact of the Great Depression and the fall of the dictatorship, faced a fiercely militant, socialist-minded working class. All the objective conditions existed for a massive social transformation.
In Spain, following the 1936 election, the landowners and other reactionary elements immediately begin sabotaging the Republic and carrying out repression. In the province of Seville, in southern Spain, trade unionists were rounded up and shot, as were people who simply didn’t go to church.
Franco and his fellow military leaders plotted against the Republic. A military coup was scheduled for July 18 (it actually broke out a day earlier). …
We see footage of popular militias. The working class in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia spring into action against the military and the fascists, blocking the coup from victory. …
Urrusti’s grandfather was in the Republican army and asked the militias to spare the lives of fascist troops. One interviewee explains that his father, a government telegraph operator, was shot for refusing orders from the fascists, and two of his uncles perished in this way.
A veteran of the International Brigades is also interviewed. This force was made up of 40,000 volunteers from 50 countries committed to the defense of the Republic, but was heavily composed of left-wing fighters … “At first there were only foreigners” in the brigade, a man tells the camera, “but as casualties mounted, they stopped coming.” We see the graves of the volunteers from England, America and elsewhere. …
With the Non-Intervention Pact, the Western “democracies” abandon the Spanish Republic, In Exile tells us. Even the League of Nations refuses help. For the uninformed viewer, this again needs elaboration, or correction. The bourgeois democracies were far more terrified of the Spanish working class and the possibility of social revolution than they were of a fascist victory.
Mexico and the Soviet Union were the only countries that provided any aid to the Republic, but this paled in comparison with the assistance, in the form of thousands of troops, modern military equipment and air power, that came from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy for Franco’s army.
The infamous Condor Legion, made up of German air force and army personnel, along with the Italian Legionary Air Force, bombs the town of Guernica, on a Sunday morning in April 1937 when the market is in full swing. Urrusti’s family members recall how they barely survived the bombing, in which some 50 tons of explosives were dropped in three hours. One interviewee remembers how “my mother was hanging clothes”, and the next moment, “she comes in with blood over her face.”
Urrusti’s mother is interviewed and she recalls her family’s flight into France. Hundreds of thousands of Spanish refugees would remain in what were essentially French concentration camps. While the authorities mistreated them, Urrusti’s mother remembers how “[French] people would bring us gifts, and adopt children.”
Urrusti’s family embarks on the ship Sinaia, bound for Mexico. Despite the perilous conditions, the exiles establish a daily newspaper on the ship and organize a band and dances to keep their spirits up. When they arrive in Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, they are greeted with open arms by the local population, although demagogues, with ominous parallels to today, agitate against the “plague of Spanish refugees.”
With the fall of the Spanish Republic in April 1939 and the victory of Franco, the stage was set for World War II. Thousands of Spanish Republicans joined the French Resistance movement to fight the Nazis.
The first military units to liberate Paris were made up of Spanish Republicans, who expected to march on to their home country and overthrow Franco, but the Allied powers prevented them and ordered them to stay 150 kilometers from the Spanish border.
Urrusti’s mother remarks bitterly “I cannot forgive the liberal, democratic countries” for this treachery. With the advent of the Cold War in the 1950s, Franco’s Spain was regarded as an important bulwark against Communism and the US provided aid to the regime in return for military bases in the geostrategically critical Iberian peninsula. We see photos of Franco surviving into old age, posing with French president Charles de Gaulle and US presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
The Spanish people endure the bestial Franco dictatorship until 1975. Baltasar Garzon, the jurist who investigated Franco’s crimes and is today the head of Julian Assange’s legal team, observes, “The tragedy of Spain is that Franco’s trial and execution is still waiting.” …
In any case, the current political situation looms large in the conclusion of the film as we see Syrians in a refugee camp. Urrusti narrates, “As years go by, humankind becomes dehumanized and immigrants and refugees become marginalized, but this has always been a right-wing effort.”
The images of Urrusti’s family and their comments are especially moving. They strike one, especially by today’s standards, as personalities of substance. Urrusti’s achievement is that he attempts to place these individuals and their fates in an overall historical perspective. The film ends by dedicating itself “to the victims of fascism” and to those who “resist” it today.
An interview with Mexican documentarian Juan Francisco Urrusti, director of In Exile: A Family Film: here.