A melancholic opening ballad tells the tale of a man who had feared that his beloved pet bird would one day fly away that he once thought of clipping its wings, only to come to the realization that such an act would defy the nature of what he cherished most about the creature…that the bird would cease to be a bird. Prefaced by the filmmaker as an open invitation to dialogue, Basque Ball touches on significant events in the evolution of Basque history, from the indigenous population’s distinct, non Indo-European ancestry, to the Carlist Wars (that, in part, appealed to the region because it rejected centralized (Castillian) authority in favor of maintaining medieval fueros that provided for a more localized, native traditional government), to the Nazi bombing of Guernica in World War II, to the entrenchment of the Franco regime (and with it, the suppression of individual identity for the strength of the collective state), to the the gradual democratization of post-Franco Spain (that nevertheless, continued a political legacy of marginalization for the Basque people). Dense and convoluted in its historic and sociopolitical scope, the film is an overwhelming multilayered collage of newsreel footage, re-enactments, film and television excerpts (most notably, Medem’s earlier film, Vacas and Around the World with Orson Welles), personal testimonies, and interviews that span the political, academic, and cultural spectrum of the Basque conflict (except for the extreme factions who declined to be included in the project, and who, in many ways, represent the very nature of this centuries-old, intractable conflict): political party representatives, surviving family of assassination victims, suspected ETA sympathizers who were subjected to state torture, writers and musicians who preserve the culture by creating works in their native language, international brokers of peace. Idiosyncratically stitched together with interstitial sequences of the national sport, pelota, and grueling tug-of-war competitions, the recurring images provide an incisive metaphor for the recursive, unresolved existential limbo of the situation, and a filmmaker’s perhaps naïve, but sincere and impassioned attempt to break the impasse.
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