The Anarchist’s Wife (2008)

la mujer del anarquista

The Anarchist’s Wife

Directed by: Peter Sehr, Marie Noëlle

Screenplay by: Marie Noëlle, Ray Loriga

Spanish title: La mujer del anarquista

Recommended? Yes

“Sing softly for love, sing loudly for freedom.”

Some of the best films use war and politics as backdrop to tell a story that isn’t about war. The Anarchist’s Wife is one such film.

I heard about this movie when it came out, but with a title like The Anarchist’s Wife, I wasn’t hopping up and down to go see it. Why is the film about the wife but she’s only known in relation to her husband? Why is he the anarchist and her just a wife?

While it romanticizes a frankly not-so-good man, the film is about women. Women coming to terms with each other and the war and men.

The answer to that is: this film isn’t about anarchism, and it’s not about the husband. It’s about the wife, Manuela. But because of the Spanish Civil War and her almost-misguided affections, her entire life is framed around Justo, her husband. The film is about these affections. It’s a film about her learning to find her own agency after losing it entirely and after wallowing in the depths of lovesickness in a fascist world.

In this way, it’s become one of my favorite films about the Spanish Civil War and even about anarchism — or at least about the spirit of resistance and self-empowerment.

The film spans several years, starting during the siege of Madrid by nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War. The fascists are bombing the city while the republicans and anarchists fight to maintain their lives and their sanity.

I went into this film not knowing too much about what happens in it and I recommend you do too. So I will say nothing further on the subject of plot.

I would say, though, that that the wife is certainly as much the anarchist as her husband. She just isn’t a militant. I wish this was better understood both in some of my favorite anarchist films (such as What To Do In Case of Fire) and in the actual anarchist milieu.

The film tries to understand political differences between people in human terms — family friends and family members alike are fascist sympathizers. Most of them turn out to be monsters and lay bare some of the obvious evils of capitalism, while others retain some vestige of humanity. Good. We should be able to understand the complexity of our enemies even as we fight them. The titular anarchist was a lawyer before the war, and it shows him acting ethically even to his enemies — which I believe is befitting of an anarchist.

And lastly, while it romanticizes a frankly not-so-good man, the film is about women. Women coming to terms with each other and the war and men. It’s not so feminist as, say, Libertarias, though it includes woman combatants and conspirators and lesbians, but it’s a story about women regardless.

It’s also beautiful and moving and well-acted, if at times edging close to melodrama.

The english captions were machine-translated and then cleaned up by a North American anarchist who left their mark on the final scene.
The english captions were machine-translated and then cleaned up by a North American anarchist who left their mark on the final scene.

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