FILM_REVIEWS_Maixabel and historical memory

The recently released Maixabel by icíar bollaín, with masterful performances by Blanca Portillo and Luis Tosar, produces a catharsis worthy of those that greek tragedies must have provoked in their day. The film stages a real knot: it takes us into human suffering, questioning our ethical position.

Maixabel lasa, widow of Juan María Jáuregui, the civil governor of Guipúzcoa murdered by ETA on 29 july 2000, is the protagonist of this fictional story, which is nonetheless rooted in reality. Maixabel, after the death of her husband, is appointed president of the association of victims of terrorism. On taking up the post, she points out that these victims are not only those of ETA, but also those of gal and state terrorism. From that point on, she launched an uncompromising fight to condemn violence.

An anonymous letter from Luis Carrasco -a former member of ETA- to the prison management led to a brief initiative that offered the possibility of a meeting between victims and murderers. Eleven years after the murder, this restorative justice programme brings together the widow and one of her husband's three murderers for an interview. Shortly afterwards, another perpetrator, Ibon Etxezarreta, will join the proposal. On this occasion, the meeting will take place during the prisoner's furlough, as the programme has been suspended.

A table brings the victim and the murderer face to face, a meeting that is difficult to conceive. Some questions want to know why, and in the face of the unspeakable suffering, forgiveness or repentance are words spoken on the edge of a precipice which, rather than naming the unnamable, testify to the recognition of the other in the very wound of his pain. There, in front of the subject, the other emerges. These words have the function of pointing to this hole, they indicate the place of the trauma.

Maixabel makes it clear that this is not an act of Christian forgiveness, but something that goes beyond that. She declares herself to be an agnostic and prefers to refer to this forgiveness as a "second chance". The murderous blow is summoned to pass through the word. "It was a liberating moment" - Maixabel will say.

Thus, the death of Juan Mari Jáuregui, who dedicated his life to working for coexistence, can continue to be at the service of the desire that moved him in life. The final scene, in a tribute to the victim, the letters of his name engraved on the granite receive the flowers of his murderer, who has been invited by his widow to be present at the event.

Maixabel is a heroine, and as such she is completely alone in her act. This radical solitude, structural to every true act, leads her to cross a threshold. She crosses her own pain and enters a zone where words materialise a real and, necessarily, are going to transform us. 

With this leap into the void, Maixabel lends her story to our story.  What we are seeing - regardless of whether we are Basque - concerns us, it looks at us. Both Blanca Portillo and Luis Tosar give an account of that shock: it is the most difficult role they have ever played and, at the same time, the one that has given most meaning to their careers.

Hatred and violence make the other an enemy, so the only way out they contemplate is their extermination. Maixabel goes to its very root. By recognising the other, she brings out the difference, and this emerges as a possibility of treatment.

To a certain extent, the three protagonists are alone. Their voices do not represent their collectives. The eta members have left the organisation and are repudiated for it, and she is misunderstood by her peers, who cannot conceive of the possibility of talking to the murderers. In the encounter, identity is shaken and reveals how our singularity is always inscribed in relation to the other. The encounter does not pretend to stand as a protocol that would teach the best way to act. In any case, it was the way they, Luis, Ibon and Maixabel, found; it does not necessarily serve everyone. They offered a piece of their truth so that fiction could mediate it.

The spanish transition was sealed with a pact of silence; it is our open secret. 46 years after Franco's death, we still owe a debt to our historical memory. No democratic government in our country, so far, has made an explicit condemnation of francoism. No one has apologised for the hundreds of thousands of victims. They remain in the anonymity of the mass graves, of the stolen babies... This silence is the legacy of a pain that has never been given a second chance. Nevertheless, on the part of civil society, there have been social movements, filmmakers, artists, writers... Desires embodied in subjects whose decision has been, and continues to be, to challenge this silence.

As the film shows very well, any treatment of historical memory will not be free of conflict, it will not erase the marks of trauma, but it will make them treatable. The first step is to acknowledge all that no human being should ever have suffered. Only from there will we be able to set reparation in motion in various forms: fiction, art, monuments, transmission, etc... Conflict is constitutive of coexistence. If we retreat in the face of it, we will allow everything we have not worked out as a society -Freud dixit- to repeat itself. The sepulchral silence becomes a body and, paradoxically, does not stop the death drive from screaming.

Irene Domínguez