Under a bloody moon

Andy Garcia is engaged in a labour of love. The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca attempts to explore why the Spanish poet was killed by fascists in 1936. By Trader Faulkner
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The Independent Culture
A team of Hispano-Americans filmed The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca in Los Angeles and Spain, under the direction of Marcos Zurinaga. It is an investigative thriller in which a young writer, Ricardo Fernandez, returns after 18 years to Granada to find out who murdered the eponymous Spanish author, and why.

The fictional tale, into which fact is deftly woven, is based on Ian Gibson's biography of Lorca, and on his second book, a detailed expose of Lorca's assassination and the events leading up to it.

Gibson risked his life in the Sixties and early Seventies, during the last years of General Franco's regime. He was determined to answer the question: what happened to Lorca between his disappearance on 16 August and his murder on 19 August 1936?

In the film we watch a dramatic man-hunt unfold. Fascist agents out to kill Fernandez run through the back corridors of a bullring as he tries to reach his one remaining key witness: the bullfighter, Gabino (played by a bona fide matador from Seville, Emilio Munoz). He pleads with Munoz (who was with Lorca when he died) to reveal the truth. The answer is ambiguous; Munoz never speaks. There is simply a close-up of the matador, a Spanish face worthy of Goya, gazing into flashback as he watches Lorca die.

Why was Lorca killed? As the film makes clear, he presented an obvious threat to Spanish machismo. The Fascists saw Lorca's writing as an attack on decency and traditional Spanish values. The republican left saw him as a hero out to challenge hypocrisy, prejudice and injustice. The film gives us glimpses of Lorca as an articulate voice, politically exploited in an era of political turmoil. This is the axis on which subsequent events in the film turn.

As Lorca, Andy Garcia gives a restrained, compelling performance, totally convincing as the Andalusian Granadino adored and admired by everyone who came under his spell.

The director Luis Bunuel, who was a close friend, remembered: "Of all the human beings I have ever known, Federico was the finest. He was his own living masterpiece."

I spoke to Andy Garcia in Los Angeles about his approach to, and feelings about, playing Lorca.

"As a Cuban living in America, I am an exile, cut off from, and missing, my country and my cultural roots, so I can identify deeply with Lorca, but with a difference. He was a homosexual, a social exile in a sexually intolerant society. He lived among friends who loved him, and yet even his closest men and women friends never suspected his true sexual identity. That fear of non-acceptance was a terrible cross for him to bear. Yet I see him as a humorous guy, a man who liked to clown with his friends. I wanted to bring this aspect of him through, within the context of the movie."

In Spain, Andy Garcia became tired of Spaniards asking why he hadn't made the film in Spanish. "English is the international language of the West. Comparatively little is known about Lorca outside Spain, among his vast potential English-speaking audience. The film is made to create a wider knowledge, interest and appreciation for a writer of genius whose work is not just Spanish but universal. The film in English is a means to this end.

"We were on a low budget and had to work fast," he continues. "In some scenes I'd improvise. Lorca was a great pianist. I play the piano. There's a scene just before the Fascists come to arrest me at the house I've taken refuge in. I tell the Arabian fable of the merchant's servant who sees the figure of death in the market-place at Baghdad. He races home, only to find death waiting for him there. I improvised my piano accompaniment to this story, as I felt it was in character with Federico. There's a phone call. With two little comic notes on the piano I tell my hosts: `Must be death calling.' I pick up the receiver. It is."

A chilling moment on the screen, and absolutely Lorca.

The death scene was also improvised. "We filmed this in an olive grove in north LA. Lorca was a moon-obsessed poet who was shot in an olive grove. Well, just as Miguel Ferrer, as Centeno, is about to shoot me, I said the unscripted line: `Where's my moon? Where's my moon?' As I said the line I looked up. No moon."

After talking to Garcia, I rang Ian Gibson, now living in Granada. He'd already checked it out. Lorca was murdered on Wednesday 19 August 1936; there was no moon that night.

`The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca' is due for general release in January