Thursday, April 27, 2006

Death in El Valle

“Death in El Valle” is a documentary that tells the story of a Spanish-American woman’s return to her family’s village with an eye, literally, to resolving the mystery of her grandfather’s mysterious death.

Cristina (C.M). Hardt is the woman and film maker. The village is called “El Valle” and is located in the Castilla-Leon region of northwestern Spain.

All her life she’s visited the village where her great grandmother, grandmother and others reside. One of the forbidden topics of family life was the death of her grandfather whom she looks very much like.

The official explanation for his untimely death (35 years old) in 1948 was a lung hemorrhage, but soft rumors told another story, one of repression and extra-legal assassination and Cristina decided, “to make history right.”

In the documentary, she is armed with a video camera and interviews anyone in town who was present that fateful night.

What is fascinating about the story is how those who have been wronged can be forced by the threat of violence to literally forget the loss and trauma dictatorship wrought in their lives.

“I knew nothing then and I know nothing now!” one peasant working the fields tells Hardt, and he is not alone.

There is much resistance to this “foreign” girl's efforts in the small town not least of which comes from her own family.

One uncle, clearly displeased from the very start at being a part of her film/investigation, tells her, “What you don’t understand, Cristina, is that we don’t want to know who killed our father, because we might go find him and kill him.”

But the truth is not always easy to conceal and Hardt makes her own dogged way toward the very man who pulled the trigger, living peacefully, in a nearby town. She is rather stunned that the murder is "such an insignificant thing in his life," and turns her efforts toward determining who betrayed her grandfather.

The family, in particular her grandmother, are forced to revisit painful moments, events, and accusations buried under years of fear and forced repression of their feelings.

“I’m thinking of this,” her grandmother explains, “because you’re forcing me to relive it, but I had forgotten it almost completely. Maybe once in a while it passed through my head, but it was like a wind that came and went.”

By the end, even the film maker is forced to concede, “I wanted to bring my family together, but I did just the opposite.”

Of course, her family may feel victim to her project, but were her grandfather asked, as he lay dying with ten bullets in his chest, whether the story of what happened to him should be remembered, be told, his answer might be obvious.

C.M. Hardt met the obligation imposed upon her by history, both personal and national.

Visit her Web site to learn more about the documentary and sign the Amnesty International petition seeking justice for the victims of Franco’s long and brutal dictatorship.

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