History can be a fraught terrain to explore on film, especially when the subject is as complex as the Spanish Civil War. Ken Loach made previously an admiral attempt with his sombre Land and Freedom. Now director Carlos Iglesias tackles the same topic in Ispansi, which looks at the conflict from a different angle. It explores the phenomena of ‘war children’, the many thousands of refugees evacuated from Spain in 1937 to countries such as the USSR, where the film unfolds. Alvaro (Carlos Iglesias) and Paula (Esther Regina) have left behind Spain and very different lives to accompany such a group of child refugees. Conflict in their homeland has unwittingly brought them together, despite their very different political views. With the German invasion of Russia in 1941 their group of Ispansi (Russian for Spaniards) is forced to flee by train and by foot across harsh, unforgiving landscape.
As tragedies and rivalries within are encountered, Paula and Alvaro discover love can flourish across political divides. For director and lead actor Iglesias this ambitious project is clearly a labour of love. It is testament to Iglesias’s skill that he navigates a dense and unfamiliar chapter of history without alienating the audience. With pacy direction and impressive location shooting Iglesias crafts an entertaining love story that while not reaching the heights of, say, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, does tug at the heart strings (at least for this viewer). ISPANSI is that rare thing: a film where you leave the cinema educated as well as entertained.
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