Icíar Bollaín’s Basque Drama ‘Maixabel’ Studies the Long Shadow of Violence

·3 min read

Director Icíar Bollaín’s “Maixabel” – which world premiered last month in San Sebastian’s main competition and screens at this week’s Spanish Screenings-Malaga de Cine – is a turbulent and emotional look into the repercussions of terrorist violence, both for the victims and the victimizers. The film follows the aftermath of the murder of politician Juan María Jáuregui from the perspective of his widow, Maixabel (Blanca Portillo), as well as the ETA terrorists who committed the killing.

The Basque film is produced by San Sebastian-based Kowalski Films (“Coven”) and Feelgood Films, with Film Factory Entertainment handling international sales. The screenplay, based on the real life story of Basque Country political activist Maixabel Lasa, was co-authored by Bollaín and Isa Campo, co-scribe of “Between Two Waters,” a San Sebastian Golden Shell winner

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Variety spoke with Bollaín during the Spanish Screenings.

“Maixabel” is filled with nuanced, complex characters. How did you go about approaching these characters so they might translate effectively to the screen?

Isa Campo and I had long conversations with the real protagonists and then we tried to find the scenes and dialogues that express them better so we could distill them into the film.

In what ways are the political topics of “Maixabel” relevant today? How do you think these themes will resonate outside of Spain?

They’re relevant today since we are looking back at ETA 10 years after they definitely stopped. It is also relevant as an example of dialogue and empathy in a moment where we are seeing very much the opposite in politics. And beyond Spain, unfortunately, wherever you look you find countries immersed in violence or trying to get out of it in peace processes like the one in Colombia. Societies have to deal with the aftermath of violence and restorative justice one way or another.

Often films with such political and technical drama lack an action hook, such as the assassination positioned at the start of “Maixabel.” How did you come to the decision to start the film with such intensity?

We were used to watching news headlines, the names of those killed…the facts. But in a film you can tell how it feels, what it really means for the wife, the daughter. It was important to see the consequences of the killing for the survivors, how they get the news, how they mourn, how they struggle to keep going…and on the other hand these two men in the story go through a very difficult and deep journey of self-criticism and confrontation for their crimes. It was important to see the beginning of this trip, when they get their hands dirty, so the moment when they sit face to face with Maixabel is that much stronger.

Redemption is a powerful theme in the film, and you tackle it through characters who cover many facets of the idea. What do you wish to say about redemption itself, particularly in the modern context, through the film?

I guess the main theme in the film is the consequences of violence. How destructive it is for everyone, for the victims, for the society in which it happens and for the people who inflicted it. It leaves everyone damaged. Redemption for these men is the only positive way out, for them and for everyone, it’s a kind of healing, even though the dead will never come back. But wounds can be healed a bit through redemption, and plant a seed for what is next, which is living together.

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