¡Ay Carmela!

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¡Ay Carmela!
Ay Carmela, film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Carlos Saura
Written by Rafael Azcona, José Sanchís Sinisterra (play), Carlos Saura
Starring Carmen Maura, Andrés Pajares, Gabino Diego
Music by Alejandro Massó
Cinematography José Luis Alcaine
Editing by Pablo González del Amo
Distributed by Prestige Films
Release dates 1990
Running time 102 min.
Country Spain
Language Spanish

¡Ay Carmela! is a 1990 Spanish film directed by Carlos Saura and based on the eponymous play by José Sanchís Sinisterra. The film stars Carmen Maura, Andrés Pajares, and Gabino Diego as a trio of traveling players performing for the Republic, who inadvertently find themselves on the Nationalist side during the closing months of the Spanish Civil War.


Carmela, Paulino, and Gustavete - who is mute as the result of an explosion - are a trio of traveling vaudeville performers. Among the chaos of the Spanish Civil War, they are in the town of Montejo, entertaining republican troops with their variety act. They are survivors motivated not exactly by patriotism but by a desire for self-preservation. Their show consists of four acts. It begins with Carmela singing and dancing a traditional song. The audience is enthusiastic during her performance, but the mood changes completely when the sound of approaching Nationalist planes is heard.

When the planes just fly over, the show continues with Paulino reading a poem by Antonio Machado that introduces a note of patriotic fervor representing the feelings of the Republicans in 1938. The seriousness of the moment is followed by a comic routine in which Paulino twists himself into a variety of ridiculous postures in an attempt to break wind. The fourth and final act is a tableau vivant in which Carmela appears representing justice while Paulino brandishes the republican flag and they sing a song whose theme is freedom.

The dangers and deprivation that they encounter in the Republican side encourage the trio to go to Valencia. To obtain the gasoline needed for the trip Carmela is required to distract a Republican truck driver while Paulino and Gustavete steal the fuel. They take the difficult journey on a misty night ending up running into the nationalist territory. Detained by a nationalist officer, they are incriminated by the Republican flag they carry in their car. Arrested and taken as prisoners, they are placed in the local school, which serves as the prison camp where the republicans are being held. Carmela befriends a fellow prisoner: a Polish soldier member of the International Brigade and is surprised that he has come to fight in Spain, a strange land whose name he cannot even pronounce. In an atmosphere of mounting tension and terror, some of the prisoners are taken away to be shot. Carmela, Paulino and Gustavete are driven away in an army car. They are convinced that they are also going to be killed, but instead they are taken to the local theater where they meet an Italian Officer, Lieutenant Amelio di Ripamonte. Surprisingly, the Lieutenant, learning that they are performers, wants them as a part of a show he has planned to entertain the Nationalist troops. They must stage a burlesque of the republic in exchange for their freedom.

For the variety show to be performed for the nationalist, Paulino rewrites their old script. From the outset, the fiery and patriotic Carmela rebels, displaying her true convictions as an anti-fascist. However, Paulino persuades her that being their lives at stake she must go along with the performance.

The day of the show both artists are indisposed as Carmela has her period, Paulino a stomach upset, the result of eating a rabbit which Gustavete, writing on his slate, now confirms was a cat. The presence of the Polish prisoners, who have been brought to watch the mockery of their ideals, greatly upsets Carmela, causing her to refuse to make the number with the flag. The show is similar to the one they performed before for the Republican troops. Musical numbers are followed by a poem, now read by the Lieutenant. The third act is a comic sketch, "The Republic goes to the Doctor", in which Paulino plays a gay Republican doctor who is visited by a female patient, the Spanish Republic, played by Carmela. Claiming that she has been made pregnant by a Russian lover, played by Gustavete, she invites the doctor to stick his thermoter in, but he is forced to confess that is broken.

Carmela, increasingly irritated by the mockery of the Republic, decides to abandon the skit, throwing the fascist audience into a frenzy by displaying her breast and intoning the Republican party–line. A nationalist officer rises from the audience and shoots Carmela in the forehead. Gustavete, suddenly finding his voice for the first time, calls her out in an anguish, but Carmela falls to the floor dead.

Sometime later, Paulino and Gustavete visit Carmela's rudimentary gravesite to decorate it with flowers and the latter’s chalk board, since Gustavete regained his voice when Carmela was shot. The only words here are spoken by Gustavete – "Come on, Paulino" – as he leads him away. As the two men take the road once again, the song "¡Ay Carmela!" is heard in the soundtrack.



Made in 1990, ¡Ay Carmela! was director Carlos Saura’s twenty-third feature-length film and, in his own words, the first in which he was able to treat the subject of the Civil War with any kind of humor: "I would have been incapable a few years ago of treating our war with humor… but now it is different, for sufficient time has passed to adopt a broader perspective, and here there is no doubt that by employing humor it is possible to say things that it would be more difficult if not impossible to say in another way".[1]

In Saura’s earlier films, allusions to the war and to its consequences were characterized by violence and brutality, and if there was any humor at all it was grim and ironic. Despite the fact that the action in ¡Ay Carmela! is set fully in the War, Saura’s treatment of it employs comic effects, including farce.[1]

The film is based on the play of the same name by the Valencian dramatist, José Sanchís Sinisterra.[1] The play was a success in Spain and was translated to English and staged in London.[2] The play focuses entirely on the two principal characters, Carmela and Paulino, and tells their story largely in flashback.[1] When it begins, Paulino is alone and depressed, for Carmela is already dead, the victim of a fascist bullet at their last performance as variety artist. In the first part of the play Carmela returns as a ghost to converse with Paulino, blaming him for all that has happened, and in the second part evokes in detail the fatal performance. The play contains only two characters and a single setting.[3] Saura adapted the play with the help of scriptwriter Rafael Azcona who had worked with him many times before but with whom he had broken in 1975 prior to the making of Cria Cuervos.[2]

Saura opened up the story and presented it not in flashback but in a linear manner.[3] This allowed Saura to follow the journey of Carmela and Paulino during the two days in which they travel from Republican to Nationalist territory, performing their act in both camps. It also allowed much more scope for the relationship and the characters of Carmela and Paulino to evolve and in relation to the events in which they find themselves caught up.[3] It also enable Saura to depict other characters and locations which are mentioned in the play, in particular, Gustavette, the traveling companion of Carmela and Paulino, and the Italian officer and theater director, Lieutenant Amelio di Ripamonte.[3] The town where the action occurs and the theater in which the final third of the film is located are also depicted.[3] Some artistic resonance evoke memories of Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 comedy To Be or Not to Be.[4]

The film takes its title from the song "Ay Carmela", which begins and ends the film. It was the favorite song of the Republican soldiers and of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.[2]

DVD release[edit]

¡Ay Carmela! is available in Region 2 DVD in Spanish with English and French subtitles.


Winner of the 1990 Goya Awards for:


  1. ^ a b c d Edwards, Indecent Exposures, p. 116
  2. ^ a b c Edwards, Indecent Exposures, p. 130
  3. ^ a b c d e Edwards, Indecent Exposures, p. 117
  4. ^ Schwartz, The Great Spanish Films, p. 102


  • Edwards, Gwynne, Indecent Exposures, PMarion Boyars, 1995, ISBN 0-7145-2984-2
  • Schwartz, Ronald, The Great Spanish Films: 1950 - 1990, Scarecrow Press, London, 1991, ISBN 0-8108-2488-4

External links[edit]