Ay, Carmela! | Chicago Reader

Ay, Carmela!

Carmen Maura (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and Andres Pajares star as the headlining couple in the Elegant Variety Show, a vaudeville troupe entertaining Spanish Republican soldiers in 1938, shortly before their defeat by the fascists in the Spanish civil war. Traveling with a young deaf-mute assistant (Gabino Diego), they're arrested in a town recently occupied by the fascists and are eventually compelled to perform a morale-boosting show for the fascist troops—as well as for Polish prisoners who are about to be shot—that an Italian lieutenant (Maurizio di Razza) will direct. Carlos Saura, directing an adaptation of Jose Sanchis Sinisterra's play Carmela by novelist and veteran screenwriter Rafael Azcona, was the most prominent filmmaker based in Spain during the latter part of Franco's reign, so the multiple tensions and conflicts expressed in this finely tuned 1990 drama are deeply felt as well as cogently expressed. Maura is quite wonderful as the title heroine, and the period flavor is handled with a great deal of potency; the title tune, a popular song in the Republican zone during the Spanish civil war, is especially stirring.

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