El Lobo (2004)

“Even in hell you need friends.”

The Spanish film El Lobo is set during the last day’s of Franco’s dictatorship and is based on the tel loborue story of Mikel Lejarza’s infiltration of the ETA between 1973-1975. The story begins with married Basque construction worker, Txema (Eduardo Noriega). While he’s sympathetic to the ETA–the Basque Nationalist and Separatist movement, he’s opposed to the use of violence. Txema’s revolutionary ethics are soon put to the test.

One night, a band of ETA members arrive at his house and ask for shelter. Txema’s wife, who’s opposed to his ETA involvement is hustled out of the way, and Txema allows them to stay. The ETA members are there to kill a man identified as a collaborator. Txema is secretly horrified by the news and even tries a half-hearted attempt to warn the target. But he doesn’t go through with the warning, the target is killed and Txema is subsequently rounded up by police.  

Initially beaten and interrogated, the police sense that Txema isn’t a hard-boiled revolutionary and that he can be turned into an informer. Using a few threats, Txema becomes the police agent El Lobo with the task of infiltrating the ETA and bringing about the arrest of its leaders. He’s their “Trojan Horse.”

Txema soon becomes romantically involved by female ETA member Amaia (Melanie Douty) whose sexual habits smack of the mentality of a revolutionary groupie. The relationship blurs the already vague lines of demarcation for Txema. During this difficult period for the ETA, Txema is assigned to a commando and is often required to locate safe houses for ETA members. While Txema soon comes to believe that he is one of the good guys, the situation is complicated by the behind the scenes politics of who is going to get the credit for nailing the ETA, and while some members of the secret service see El Lobo as a disposable piece of rubbish–others do not. Txema doesn’t realise that he’s a tool for political ambitions.

El Lobo is excellent in its portrayals of the characters and the complexities of the situation, and a very nervous Txema finds himself caught up in internal squabbles within the ETA. With Franco fading, some of the ETA want to abandon the armed struggle and negotiate with the upcoming new government. Other revolutionaries stay firmly on track with the old ideals of a separatist Basque state. Locked in the ETA’s strict hierarchal system and caught between suspicious ETA members, the ethical divide over the political and armed struggle factions of the ETA, and ruthless secret service agents, by the time the story is over, El Lobo is a convoluted mess of trashed beliefs and ideals.

Apart from being a good story, the film raises questions regarding revolutionary ethics and the use of violence.  And if violence is used, is it inevitable that the most violent man becomes the leader? The film also illustrates the argument that the fascist state needs domestic terrorists to further its political agenda. Violence committed by terrorists creates the perfect atmosphere in which governments can implement and extend further a Strategy of Tension–thereby manipulating and controlling the population who passively accept stringent legislation and increased surveillance. From director Miguel Courtois.

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