January 24, 2018
Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mika, a woman raging war with her times

Pictures of Mika and Hipólito in a scene from Mika — mi guerra de España.
Pictures of Mika and Hipólito in a scene from Mika — mi guerra de España.
Pictures of Mika and Hipólito in a scene from Mika — mi guerra de España.
By Pablo Suárez
For the Herald
A new documentary focuses on the only woman captain in Spanish War militia

Though many accounts and figures related to the Spanish Civil War are quite well known, it’s most likely that the story of Mika Etchebere remains somewhat in the dark to those who are not connoisseurs. This is arguably one of the main reasons to see the skillfully crafted Argentine documentary Mika — mi guerra de España ( Mika – My Spanish War), directed by Fito Pochat and Javier Olivera. Moreover, not many are the documentaries that manage to delve into a complex topic while making it accessible to general audiences.

Born in 1902 in Santa Fe, Argentina, to Russian Jewish immigrants, Mika first became an anarchist at the young age of fifteen. In time, she would turn into a fervent Marxist militant, that is to say, during her years at the university in the 20s when she met Hipólito Etchebere, whom she almost instantly fell in love with. As did he with her.

Hipólito and Mika later get married, but prior to that they became involved in many different anarchist, communist and socialist organizations. Among other activities, they took part in the creation of a political group based on the Insurrexit magazine. They also joined the Argentine Communist Party in 1924, but because of strong differences with the leadership of the party, they were kicked off after only two years.

However, as was to be expected, their activism went on untouched as they embarked on long trips through Patagonia during the late 20s; then, in 1931, they moved to Europe, first for a brief stay in Spain and France, only to finally settle in Berlin in 1932. They saw the climb of Nazism and the defeat of Socialism, so in turn they decided to go live in Paris. Once there, they got into Que Faire, a Trotskyist revolutionary group. By the time the Spanish Civil War began, Mika and Hipólito had switched cities once again and were residing in Madrid.

This event proved to be a major turning point in Mika’s life — and we’re talking about a life with many turning points. From being the wife of a political leader, she became no less than the only foreign woman to command POUM militia during the war. Thus started a whole new period in her life, which ended in Paris in 1992, when she was 90 years old.

If you think the above synopsis gives away much of what Mika — mi guerra de España is all about, you are wrong. It so happens that there’s so much to account for that one documentary would not be enough. Nonetheless, Fito Pochat’s and Javier Olivera’s opus smoothly overcomes this potential problem and provides viewers with both the big picture as well as the most meaningful smaller facets.

It does so in a conventional yet most effective manner by turning to taped interviews with Mika, conducted both in France and Buenos Aires; archive footage from the Spanish Civil War, but also personal photos of Mika, her husband, friends and relatives; current footage shot in the open skies and vast fields of Patagonia and Spain; and a voice over narration by renowned Argentine actress Cristina Banegas as she reads passages from Mika’s autobiography, Mika — mi guerra de España.

So picture a properly edited feature with the right tempo to immerse you into a universe unlike any you’ve probably known before, the universe of a very special, multifaceted woman that went crossed many frontiers, time and again, to leave a most indelible mark in the history of the Spanish Civil War. Imagine old photos that speak of far-away times when Mika and Hipólito were getting to know each other and the world around them, documents of a past that can only be reached through words and images. Expect an informative feature that will give you all the information you need (and more) to get familiar with an exceptional woman without ever becoming overwhelming, repetitive or redundant.

Most important, and this is perhaps where the film’s biggest asset lies, Mika — mi guerra de España, is a documentary that pulls off a very difficult task: it’s revealing and intimate at once. It’s not really about facts, but about people. It’s the humanistic side what makes the difference here. In this regard, special credit is due to Cristina Banegas who conveys emotions and sentiments that prompt viewers to envision Mika as a real life person instead of a figure with no flesh and blood.

Production notes.

Mika — mi guerra de España (Argentina, 2013). Directed and written by Fito Pochat and Javier Olivera. Produced by Fito Pochat, Eduardo Sánchez, Andrea Gouverneur and Javier Olivera. Cinematography by Fernando Lorenzale. Editing by Lucas Scavino. Music by Alfonso Herrera. Sound design: David González Hernández. Voice of Cristina Banegas.

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