‘Silence of Others’ a stirring doc about Franco-era survivors

Film describes efforts to come to terms with atrocities

“The Silence of Others” looks at the human rights abuses committed by Spain’s Franco regime and follows a recent grassroots effort waged by survivors of that era to bring about truth and justice measures that have long been warranted.

The terrific documentary opens Friday at the Roxie.

Filmmakers Robert Bahar and Almudena Carracedo, who previously collaborated on “Made In L.A.,” begin with some history: During the nearly 40 years of Gen. Francisco Franco’s rule, which lasted from the 1930s until the dictator’s death in 1975, state-perpetrated crimes against humanity occurred. About 100,000 civilians, deemed opponents, were killed and buried in mass graves.

The film focuses largely on post-Franco Spain, a country failing to come to terms with its past.

A 1977 amnesty law freed political prisoners but also protected perpetrators from prosecution. A “pact of forgetting” caused truths about the Franco years to be excluded from media reportage and school curriculums.

The documentary centers on a group of Franco-era survivors and descendants of victims. In 2010, they filed a lawsuit in Argentina, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, seeking to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The film follows the plaintiffs and a few related figures, like human rights attorney Carlos Slepoy, through a complicated, frustrating process.

While the presentation of the suit — with Argentinian, Spanish and international aspects — gets a little confusing, the movie’s human elements matter more than the legal specifics.

Overall, the movie is valuable history lesson and a stirring mosaic of citizen efforts to bring truth to light so that the horrors don’t happen again.

The survivors we meet are an informative bunch, often with heartbreaking stories.

It’s hard to forget Maria Martin, an octogenarian placing sunflowers on a roadside memorial where the murdered body of her mother was dumped during the Spanish Civil War.

Jose Maria Galante lives just meters away from his former torturer — the notorious Antonio Gonzalez Pacheco, nicknamed Billy the Kid, who walks the streets freely. Streets in Spain still bear the names of Franco-era perpetrators of crimes against humanity.

Others hope that the bones of their loved ones who are buried in mass graves can be exhumed.

We also learn about “stolen babies” —– newborns taken from their mothers at birth and placed with parents considered more suitable.

Younger people interviewed on the street know virtually nothing about what went on during the Franco regime — a collective ignorance reflecting national “forgetting,” it seems.

The sight of bones being removed from a grave filled with skeletons provides a fitting tone of horror.

Also disturbing are shots of current Franco admirers — protesters carrying signs that read “Hail Spain” and “Make Spain great again.”

This doc is clearly about more than Spain. Check it out.

REVIEW

The Silence of Others

Three and a half stars

Starring: María Martín, José María Galante, Carlos Slepoy, Maria Servini

Directed by: Robert Bahar, Almudena Carracedo

Not rated

Running: 1 hour, 36 minutes

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