Maixabel

by | Nov 13, 2021 | 0 comments

Iciar Bollain’s latest is too restrained with its touchy subject, but largely triumphs

The ETA conflict is still an incredibly touchy subject in much of Spain. After the Basque separatist terrorist group announced the end of its violent conflict in 2011, Spanish society has wanted to quickly move on and forget its past trauma. However, as has been evidenced throughout much of history, to ignore past pains will only make them fester and get worse. The same can be applied to Spain regarding their time under the Franco dictatorship, which is slowly being discussed more widely now. In film and TV, we’re finally beginning to see a reflection on the impact of ETA, the most recent being Maixabel (2021).

Maixabel is the true story of the eponymous widow (Blanca Portillo) of an ETA victim who was assassinated in 2000. The murderers, Ibon (Luis Tosar) and Luis (Urko Olazabal) were sent to jail in 2004. By 2010, after time in jail, both men begin to reflect and repent their participation in ETA and their actions. When given the chance to meet with Ibon, who dealt the killing blow to her husband, Maixabel agrees.

The film is directed by one of Spain’s best working directors: Iciar Bollain. Bollain continues down a path of digging into issues that Spanish society is deeply uncomfortable discussing in public. Be they domestic violence with Take My Eyes (2003) or colonialism with Even the Rain (2010). With Maixabel, Bollain dives into an issue that is much more delicate in the eyes of controversy and polarization in much of Spain. As a result, Bollain, who co-wrote the script with Isa Campo, takes on an incredibly calculated and careful approach with every frame and line so as to not offend or stir up the wrong emotions. This is a fascinating feat, as the few other filmmakers who have tried to deal with ETA, be they Julio Medem with his documentary The Basque Ball: Skin Against Stone (2003) or the recent miniseries Patria (2020) have led to incredibly controversy. As a result, simply to be able to meditate without angering those around her is admirable of the Madrid-born filmmaker. 

As with all of Bollain’s work, she has a social issue become the setting to deeply personal character arcs. This has helped much of her work avoid sounding preachy or overly informative, letting viewers see the personal stories instead of the macro and academic analysis. This is a smart approach to take with the plot of Maixabel, as it helps her avoid “taking sides” and instead focus on the individual stories. With deeply polarizing issues like ETA, or with the current political climate in Spain and around the world, these kinds of stories become increasingly necessary. They show that blind following of ideology over personal emotions and relationships has a shattering and devastating effect on people. As a result, Maixabel is as much a reflection on the recent history of Spain as much as a cautionary tale. This message is exacerbated thanks to the actual reality and veracity of the central characters in the narrative. 

However, Bollain’s direction and structuring feel much more restrained than in her previous work. Perhaps it is the fear surrounding such a touchy subject that makes Bollain play it safe and cautious. This doesn’t allow the emotion that might be emitted in some scenes to fully come forth, despite insuperable performances from Portillo and Tosar. Without being able to take risks and fully push her actors, viewers might feel a bit cold and alienated from the characters’ plights. The story structure is unconventional, as it is really centered around one meeting between victim and perpetrator. This slows the pace of the film down and disconcerts viewers’ rhythm expectations.

Nevertheless, Maixabel is a truly insightful and strong feature from Bollain. It is one of the more effective reflections on ETA to have been put to screen, and its technical, performative, and symbolic mastery make it another truly worthy addition to Bollain’s filmography.

  • OVERALL MOVIE RATING 79% 79%

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