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Losing Lorca

Federico García Lorca
Blood of a Poet: Andy Garcia plays Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.

Marcos Zurinaga's movie fails to track down the Spanish poet

By Michael S. Gant

THE BLUNT HAND of literalism squeezes all the poetry out of The Disappearance of García Lorca. In an impressionistic credit sequence, the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (Andy Garcia, with the bit between his teeth and running hard) loudly declaims some of his memorable lines about the dread events that will take place at "five in the afternoon." Sure enough, later in the film, director Marcos Zurinaga prods his characters along to their fate by intercutting close-ups of a clock hand ticking inexorably toward ... five o'clock. (I suppose that reflects the time difference between Spain and America, where showdowns take place at High Noon.)

Lorca, a passionate poet and playwright, homosexual (although the film dances around this point) and all-round literary provocateur ran afoul of the fascists and was executed in 1938 during the opening years of the Spanish Civil War. Around this incident, Zurinaga has fashioned a cumbersome two-tiered story of memory and revelation. Esai Morales, in way over his head, plays Ricardo, a young journalist whose family fled Spain in the late '30s. In 1954, Ricardo returns to his hometown of Granada to learn what really happened to Lorca. Ricardo's obsession is more than historical: when he was just a boy, he once met Lorca, who left him with the benediction "Don't forget me." If only he had, but Ricardo persists in dredging up the kind of political and familial secrets that Franco's Spain can't allow to surface. With the help of a friendly taxi driver (Giancarlo Giannini), Ricardo gets roughed up, falls in love with his childhood sweetheart (Marcela Walerstein), is interrogated by his sweetheart's father (Jeroen Krabbé), tussles with a Franco thug (Miguel Ferrer) and ... takes lots of notes.

Periodically, a character stops for several minutes to deliver his or her version of Lorca's final hours. These flashbacks are all different, which is why it's a bit hard to understand the immediate credence Ricardo gives to the final version as described by the least-trustworthy narrator. In any case, the characters' motivations don't fall into place, a function perhaps of significant trimming--earlier versions of The Disappearance of García Lorca were longer than the print now in release. Zurinaga's journey through the labyrinth of history ends up in a dead end, salvaged only by cinematographer Juan Ruiz-Anchia's evocative autumnal images of Granada--the fascist past hasn't looked this good since The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

The Disappearance of García Lorca (R; 100 min.), directed by Marcus Zurinaga, written by Zurinaga and Juan Antonio Ramos, Neil Cohen and Ian Gibson, photographed by Juan Ruiz-Anchia and starring Andy Garcia and Esai Morales.

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From the Oct. 9-15, 1997 issue of Metro.

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