Spanish historical drama La línea invisible, which recently debuted in the US, is compelling viewing.
Over the past few months, series related to ETA, the Basque separatist-terrorist group, have launched in the US, including the documentary The Challenge: ETA and the drama Patria.
Joining them last week is the historical drama La línea invisible, which tells the origin story of the first killings by ETA members through following the lives of two individuals: Txabi Etxebarrieta, a student and poet who became an early leader of ETA, and Melitón Manzanas, the provincial head of the Social Brigade, aka the secret police in Francoist Spain — a man who likely would have made Torquemada proud for his use of torture.
The series opens in 1963 Bilbao. Manzanas and his right-hand man, Chamorro, are meeting with one of Franco’s men to give him the information they have collected on subversives in the area, including members of ETA, whom he describes as “not dangerous.” Elsewhere in the city, Txabi learns his student teaching job will start soon, while his brother, José Antonio, is planning something with ETA comrades Maxi and Txiki. But a crippling illness prevents José Antonio from doing anything more, really, so it is agreed that Txabi, eager to play a part in ETA’s anti-fascist plots, join the small but dedicated group.
As the drama continues, we see the organizational infighting and failed worker strikes that lead to Txabi being named leader of ETA; the drawing of Txabi that puts him in Manzanas’s crosshairs; the role of certain Basque clergymen in ETA’s operations; and the escalation of violence in the name of ETA’s cause. We also get a brief glimpse at the life of José Antonio Pardines, the 25-year-old Guardia Civil from Galicia who, when the gun-toting Txabi crosses the invisible line on June 7th, 1968, becomes the first person killed by an ETA member. He will not be the last.
Despite knowing beforehand what happens at the end of the series, I still ended up binge-watching La línea invisible in one sitting, because the story is intriguing — perhaps more so for me as I knew next to nothing about ETA and the havoc the group wreaked, save for the tidbits I learned from news reports. I can’t say I’m much more knowledgeable about them now, but I think I have a somewhat better sense of what drove some amongst the Basque people to take up arms and to escalate their actions.
But fighting for a cause doesn’t mean you are duty-bound to kill people, and working for a dictatorship doesn’t mean you are inhuman. In watching La línea invisible, it was easy for me to pick Txabi’s side at first, as it is primarily his story that we follow over six episodes. But it got more difficult as he amped up the rhetoric and the violence. In a similar vein, I didn’t have to think twice about Manzanas and members of the secret police and the Civil Guard being the bad guys, as they used violence to the extreme to get information and to subdue and control the guilty and innocent alike. But José Antonio Pardines — this Guardia Civil’s life was just getting started, and his future looked so bright. Until it got snuffed out. So, yeah, I was torn. And as I replay things in my head, I’m still torn.
The cast includes Àlex Monner (Unauthorized Living) as Txabi, Antonio de la Torre (The Endless Trench) as Manzanas, Enric Auquer (Sky Rojo) as José Antonio, Anna Castillo (Arde Madrid) as Txiki, Joan Amargós (Los inocentes) as Maxi, Patrick Criado (Mar de plastico) and Emilio Palacios (The Zone) as ETA members Txema and Peru, María Morales (Criminal: Spain) as Txabi’s mother, Asier Etxeandia (Velvet) as ETA collaborator El Inglés, Pablo Derqui (If I Hadn’t Met You) as Chamorro, Josean Bengoetxea (Presumed Guilty) as Padre Iñaki, Amaia Lizarralde (The Boarding School: Las Cumbres) as Manzanas’s wife Ana, and Xóan Fórneas (3 Caminos) as José Antonio Pardines.
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