Every war once it begins to be committed to film has its own cliches. The Anarchist’s Wife from film makers Marie Noelle and Peter Sehr is full of those from the Spanish Civil War as it attempts to tell the sweeping love story of a young wife who stands valiantly by her husband’s side. Really it is always the risk with a war film because if it is not out and out propaganda, then it is easy to fall into the passion trap. The passion trap is where the passions of the war filter into construction of the story and infect the story with either heart wrenching shouting or overly emotive writing.
Unfortunately, The Anarchist’s Wife piles on the cliches and the shouting and the crying so that by the end of the movie you wonder did they leave anything out? Probably the most glaring cliche, or, to be kind, simplistic device, is the complicated political alliances of the family members. The wife’s brother is a Republican, her husband a Republican, and his brother and his wife a Fascist. To make it hear wrenching the sister-in-law is summarily executed by a Republican and the the young brother is executed by the Fascists. While all of this could have happened, it seems the film makers had to make sure they explained each side had its savage moments and that if someone dies on each side the emotion can be greater.
Eventually, the anarchist has to flee the fall of the government and goes into exile in France where he is put in a concentration camp.The wife waits for him and suffers the privations of the losers in the war. The wife is a fighter, but she comes off as a spoiled brat more annoying than anything else, wearing her old mink coat from when she was a rich anarchist, and unable to understand times had changed. Ultimately, though, she is allowed to go to France to reunite with her husband. At first it is happy, but then a mystery seems to swirl around him. Why is he so secretive? What is the relation with the French-German woman? Oh, they are plotting to bomb Franco from a small plane, that’s all. This is when the movie really lost its focus and really began to take on the cliches. Naturally they fail, but at least the wife and husband are together. Perhaps if the film had been about just this or without the assassination plot it would have been better.
Finally, the ending of the film was terrible. The last minute of the movie is closed by the narration of the daughter who says when Franco died Spain moved into democracy without out any problems, which isn’t true. Then she goes on to say everyone who knows a survivor must talk to them. A laudable goal, but a difficult one too. More importantly, though, it makes the film too self important. After sitting through the assassination plot that weakens what every power there was in the film, the ham handed command to talk to the survivors is just silly.
War films, easily to overloaded with passions and plot, are best left simple and shouldn’t try to encompass every last detail as The Anarchist’s Wife did.