17 Hours

Spain | 2011 | 97 min. | Director: Chema de la Peña | Genre: Drama, Political
Spanish with subtitles | Showing: Sunday, April 15, 2012, 9:00 pm at Landmark Theatres and Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 9:00 pm at Landmark Theatres

There are many hurdles that occur when a country drastically changes from night to day. It could be a natural disaster or a man made disaster but there is one type of event that happens to be both: that of a change in regime. Following Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, King Juan Carlos I was put in charge of the Spanish state as the highest ranking military official. Rather than follow the totalitarianism that was Spain under Franco, the King had put into play the transition into democracy that his father Don Juan de Borbon had advocated in 1946. This period of unrest and high tension created the perfect storm for many different troubles. However, it also created a surge in political activity, as the Spanish people, for the first time in over 30 years, could govern themselves with proper representation, form autonomies and enter the modern world.

The film portrays the attitudes and actions of a rebellious military who thought that they knew what was best for Spain. The attempted putsch was the result of years of conspiracies that had been developing within the ranks of military officials that so distrusted the new government as to completely demolish it. To restore the dignity of Spain, they sought to return to the old establishment: the austere and oppressive family values that had been brutally enforced during Francoist Spain.

The remaining years of the 70s were hard but the road to progress is a long one. In 1981, the Spanish Congress of Deputies in Madrid were getting ready to elect into office Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo as the new Prime Minister. Interrupting the vote, Lt. Clnl. Antonio Tejero barged in with 200 members of the Guardia Civil (gendarmerie). In the 17 hour standoff, no one was injured as King Juan Carlos I had released a televised statement at the eleventh hour, condemning the action instigated by the military and ensuring the Spanish citizenry that constitutional law will be held in place. The crown’s position on the matter was to continue with the transition that had already been making lengths in a timely fashion but still had some way to go.

The film itself is a gripping suspense. The opening scene features the ritualistic way a military official gears up for the day and the devotion behind it. From there, you are completely immersed in this event, forever branded on the psyche of modern Spain and in fact, the last putsch attempt to happen in the history of Western Europe. As such, this is the first film to portray 23-F (February 23rd was the date of the event and the colloquial term for it) as it unfolded and present the feel of panic and urgency that the crown and the Spanish people were being subjected to.

The casting in this film was spot on. Paco Tous does an extremely dedicated and balanced portrayal of Antonio Tejero, which is not an easy task to accomplish since he has been villainized by many. With his objective performance we see the man, not just the fury. Fernando Cayo’s King Juan Carlos I was extremely convincing and was so eerily similar that, had it not been for all that was going on, it would have proved to be a bit distracting.

The writing is also to be noted for its quality and its fluidity. The action was mostly verbal with added ammunition (literally) but even the most suspicious of foreign film/subtitles will be pleased with the story of political and military intrigue.

At an hour and some change, you’ll not only be inspired by the outcome, but appreciate that politics in our backyard are not as volatile as they could be, that armed force is saved for the  streets, not the tribunals.

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