Spanish dictator’s victims speak out in ‘The Silence of the Others’

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After Gen. Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, Spain faced the question of how to address crimes committed during nearly four decades of dictatorship. A 1977 amnesty law offered a solution, absolving Franco’s political opponents while shielding his supporters from prosecution.

For the principal subjects of “The Silence of Others” — victims of human rights abuses during Franco’s regime, or in some cases their descendants — that amnesty law has proved a formidable obstacle to justice.

Much of this documentary, directed by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, follows the progress of a lawsuit that a group filed in 2010 in Argentina, whose courts, using a principle called universal jurisdiction, could theoretically step in where Spain’s would not.

Among those featured in the film are José María Galante, who explains that he lives “just meters” from the man he says tortured him. (There are shades of “Death and the Maiden” here.)

Another plaintiff, Ascensión Mendieta Ibarra, seeks to recover the bones of her father, who died in 1939, from a mass grave.

The movie is at its most startling in showing how vestiges of the Franco era have casually persisted in Spain, in the names of streets, for instance.

The documentary could be clearer in explaining the intricacies of the international legal wrangling. Extradition proceedings are one thing, but the film is fuzzier on how a judge in Argentina is able to compel an exhumation in Spain.

Of course, the mere existence of legal proceedings abroad puts pressure on Spain to attend to its past.

That’s certainly the goal of this years-spanning documentary, which is informative, if not always as specific as it might have been.

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