Reflecting on who did what in the murky past is a recurring theme in Spain, with its history of fascism, and here in Chile where the Socialist Government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in the 1970s by ruthless dictator General Pinochet.
Spider opens just prior to the Allende coup and focuses on three radical right-wing terrorists: a couple, Ines (Mercedes Moran) and Justo (Gabriel Urzua), and their friend Gerardo (Marcelo Alonso), members of the real revolutionary Patria y Libertad. They start out small by beating political targets and graduate to a planned assassination which requires Gerardo, now Ines’s lover, to disappear.
This foundational story jumps between the past and present, where Ines and Justo are married, she a successful businesswoman and philanthropist and Justo an alcoholic. Both live quietly and have buried their histories, unlike Gerardo, who comes violently to police attention when, after intervening in a robbery, he kills the thief in a deranged revenge attack.
These people are not easy to like but the movie shapes into a taut political thriller with Ines, easily the most sympathetic character although she was equally culpable, at the centre. When the inevitable happens and Gerardo – thought long gone and hopefully dead, by the other two – violently re-enters their lives, it is hard not to feel some sympathy for her wish to keep youthful idealism, however violent and deluded, permanently buried. But Gerardo never reconciled with the present and his zealotry has transferred from Socialists to immigrants and his commitment to brutality is undiminished.
This story of accountability is foremost a thrilling drama but it is hard to miss the political point that the comfortable lives of Ines and Justo were built on the murderous history of Pinochet, who executed, tortured and imprisoned thousands of his countrymen.
It is all the more interesting to see it through the lens of those who were on the ugly side of history, and the film’s judgement is too never far away. There is a telling line at a birthday party when Ines, arguing with her son, reveals how happy she was that Pinochet won. “What would your kids be now if they’d been raised under Marxism?” she yells, dropping her guard and displaying her true political colours.
Spider is screening on April 29, May 2 and 8 as part of the Spanish Film Festival, which runs from April 27 to May 16 at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.
Read Penelope Debelle’s preview of the 2021 Spanish Film Festival highlights here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.