Basque Ball

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Movie Review by Lisa Henshall

Starring: Txetxo Bengoetxea, Inaki Gabilondo, Felipe Gonzalez, Fermin Muguruza
Director: Julio Medem

This is an incredibly challenging and stimulating documentary from the director of SEX AND LUCIA. I confess that before going to see it, I knew nothing about the issue of the Basques in Spain. I’d no previous knowledge of Spanish history or politics, and the only information I’d gleaned from news broadcasts was an organisation called ETA sporadically bombing Spanish civilians…but I didn’t know why. I won’t try to explain it now but just say that I’m ashamed that my curiosity didn’t get the better of me a little sooner as there is clearly a very valid debate to be had on the topic.

I know THE BASQUE BALL has caused a lot of controversy in Spain, but for me it felt like a well balanced and intelligent portrayal of what must be a delicate subject. He has managed to retain a rare level of objectivity in a documentary format and from the outset shows us that he has been thorough but also that there won’t be simple answers and he opens with the lines: “This film aims to be an invitation to discussion. This film has been conceived with respect towards all opinions.”

Medem interviewed an astonishing number of people and the rigorously edited versions of those interviews make up the film’s structure (inter-cut with clips of the Basque sport ‘pelota’ – a cross between squash and lacrosse – as well as archive footage including one film in black and white made by Orson Welles). Shot in French, Spanish and Basque languages we meet political representatives (both Basque and Spanish), representatives of ETA, psychologists, sociologists, language experts, musicians, artists, historians, survivors of ETA bombings, relatives of ETA victims, representatives of Amnesty International etc.

After listening to all the voices and arguments, the overall feeling I got was of hopefulness that a dialogue could be started between the two sides. It was particularly incredible to see the wife of a politician, assassinated by ETA a few years ago, talking without malice about his killers. Also the young Basque political activist who survived a car bombing by ETA but lost his leg – it had stimulated him to work harder to keep the dialogue open.

My only criticism was that I’m not the fastest reader and I found it increasingly hard to read and digest the information on the subtitles. The cuts between the interviews seemed to speed up and it was certainly almost impossible to follow who everyone was towards the end. I look forward to THE BASQUE BALL coming out on DVD/VHS when it will be possible for me to pause and rewind sections to ensure I fully understood it.

4 out of 6 stars