Mireille Balin

LAssedio dell’Alcazar/ Sin novedad en el Alcázar (Augusto Genina, Spain/Italy, 1940)

Posted on Updated on

IMG_6043

The equivalent of Going My Way but for fascists instead of Catholics. Though Catholic fascists will love it even more. Very well made propaganda, lovely to look at and emotionally affecting. Francisco Franco makes a cameo at the end to thank those who resisted the siege of the Alcazar in Toledo.

In the program notes for  the catalogue of this year’s ‘Il Cinema Ritrovato’,  Emiliano Morreale writes L’assedio dell’Alcazar ’emphasises realism, an anti-rhetoric which while not necessarily ‘anti-Fascist’, nonetheless brought to Italy the model of the American and European war movie, opening the way to Rossellini’s first feature films.’

This is a statement that at first seems contradictory, after all what could be further than the American war movie with its emphatic individualism, its focus on action and its cause and effect continuity than Rossellini’s Paisan? However, the film is undoubtedly as exciting as an American war film, focussing on an enigmatic hero (Captain Vela played by Fosco Giachetti) through an overall structure of resisting the siege, with two romances (that of the hero which ends in success and that of a young soldier which ends in his new bride’s death), and lots of action sequences in between. It is also true that many sequences, particularly the outdoor ones, have a documentary flavour.

The story of the fascists under siege from the republicans in the Alcázar during the Spanish Civil War became legendary partly through its re-iteration in Francoist propaganda in Spain (I remember reading it in the general ‘Enciclopedia’ which was a textbook for children throughout Spain in the sixties. See also figure 1, and extracts from a series of twelve postcards, all currently on exihibit at the Queen Sofia Museum in Madrid), and partly through its dramatisation in films such as this. Daniela Arcona writes how the Alcázar is under siege in support of the revival of the traditional Spain incarnated by dictator Francisco Franco and how in the film,

DSC09917
Fig 1, Queen Sofia Museum, Madrid

‘The discourse is articulated on a symbolic and ideological level, discipline/chaos, nobility/vulgariy, homeland/Bolshevism, faith/atheism. The characters evidence a similar slippage : the rebels are characterised by respectability and courage, while the defenders of the legitimate government are marked by scruffiness and cowardice’.

IMG_6068.jpg

In Historia del cine español, Roman Gubern et al, note that, in Spain, the Spanish version of the  film was adopted as a Spanish film and elevated as a prototypical example of ‘de Cruzada’ cinema, the Francoist cinema that crusaded against the forces of Bolshevism and atheism and for Catholic and traditional values (p.209). I understand that the Italian and Spanish version are quite different though I have yet to see the Spanish one. The film was released in Italy, just after the start of WWII in August 1940; and in Spain under the title of Sin novedad en el Alcázar in October 1940, only a year after the end of the Spanish Civil War.

Part of an accordion set of Spanish postcards from 1940 by Foto Rodriguez currently on display at the Queen Sofia museum

According to David Melville Wingrove, ‘ironically, both of the film’s leading ladies were blacklisted after the war due to their personal lives. The seemingly angelic Maria Denis (who marries the young soldier on her deathbed in the film) was the mistress of Pietro Koch, the Fascist Chief of Police in Occupied Rome. The coolly elegant Mireille Balin (the society lady whose experience in the Alcazar transforms her into a saintly nurse in love with the Captain) was the mistress of an SS commander in Occupied Paris. He and Balin went on the run together after the war but were captured by the French Resistance….the rest of the story is not pleasant!’

It would make a great movie though. This one is well-made, glorious to look at and exciting to watch. Though I found its expertness and what it was expert on alternately creepy and funny.

 

José Arroyo