The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca

on September 12, 1997 by Kim Williamson
   Films in which political intrigue is played for political commentary and not for narrative excitement are among the most difficult to make successful. The last great political film may have been 1969's "Z"; though it's in that tradition, "The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca" (aka "Lorca," "Death in Granada" and "Blood of a Poet") is only modestly effective. Based on two Ian Gibson books, "The Assassination of Federico Garcia Lorca" and "Federico Garcia Lorca: A Life," the film boasts a number of interesting characterizations and some compelling acting. But it has two themes--the inhumanity of fascism, and the father/son relationship--and the two make an incongruent mix.
   In the first narrative, told through a cascade of flashbacks, Andy Garcia plays Lorca, the famed Spanish poet and playwright killed under mysterious circumstances during the nationalist takeover in Granada in 1936. (Glancing references are made to Lorca's homosexuality--during an execution scene in which Lorca helps steady an old man, a soldier roughly says, "Hey, no kissing"--but the film itself and Garcia's casting make this element almost invisible.) Mistaken for being "a Red," in part because his writings challenge social convention and religious belief, Lorca falls afoul of the growing fascist movement and conservative society, even as the country's intellectuals, youth and peasantry have taken him to their hearts.
   The second narrative, set in 1954, focuses on journalist Ricardo Fernandez ("My Family/Mi Familia's" Esai Morales), who as a boy (played by Naim Thomas) had met his hero Lorca after a theatre performance. Determined to find truth in his homeland, Ricardo leaves Puerto Rico, to which his father Vicente ("Taxi's" Eusebio Lazaro) had fled with his family from Granada two decades ago after a nighttime encounter with the military left him bloody. On his quest, Ricardo falls in love, in an on-autopilot romance with his former best friend's sister (Marcela Walerstein); more intriguingly, he is aided by an enigmatic taxi driver (a subtle Giancarolo Giannini). Figuring in both stories are three dark-hearted characters: Robert Lozano ("Selena's" Edward James Olmos), a member of the political hierarchy who goes on to publish Lorca's works; Colonel Aguirre ("Immortal Beloved's" Jeroen Krabbe), who--however unbelievably--never wavers from his right-wing principles even after his son, Ricardo's best friend, is shot by rampaging militia; and death-squad member Centeno ("Point of No Return's" Miguel Ferrer).
   Filmmaker Marcos Zurinaga ("Tango") clearly feels passionately about his subject matter, but perhaps too much. At key moments, his white-hatted characters declaim more than speak; their fervency forestalls audience empathy against the blackguards. (An offputting score is simple-minded in its support.) Zurinaga's Lorca narrative is partially undercut because, with both stories mainly told from Ricardo's point of view, the camera is forced to follow the wrong person. In the second narrative, Ricardo never is given enough stature to be a believable motive force that overcomes all resistance in his search to identify Lorca's killer; if he could do it, someone else would have long before. Also, his connection to Lorca is glancing, so his finding the answer remains important only to him, never to the world (i.e., the audience). The resolution of both stories is never properly prepared for: Red herrings unfairly abound, and the naming of the two men who pulled the trigger--apparently meant with patriarchal symbolism to indict the Spanish establishment as a whole--is especially surprising in that it settles questions the movie never asked.
   On the positive side, most of the players give interesting rhythms to their characters that overcome the freneticism of the film's back-and-forthing in time. Garcia makes a fine Lorca (Garcia makes a fine anything), remaining sympathetic even when the script demands bombast, and even then the general humanism on display is laudable. The Miramar-Esparza/Katz production has a desired (if overdone) burnished look thanks to Juan Ruiz Anchia's cinematography, and the period details--including a flamenco scene in which BOXOFFICE staffer Linda Andrade, a professional dancer, performs--provide dramatic realism. Would that the story itself did that more authentically as well.    Starring Andy Garcia, Esai Morales, Jeroen Krabbe, Marcela Walerstein, Giancarlo Giannini and Edward James Olmos. Directed by Marcos Zurinaga. Written by Marcos Zurinaga & Juan Antonio Ramos and Neil Cohen. Produced by Marcos Zurinaga, Moctesuma Esparza and Robert Katz. A Sony Pictures release. Drama. Rated R for bloody violence and a scene of sexuality. Running time: 108 min.
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