When failed novelist and university professor Lola (Ariadna Gil) is assigned to write a newspaper article about the Spanish Civil War, she discovers that the Fascist writer Rafael Sanchez Mazas (Ramon Fontsere) managed to escape execution from left-wing forces and was rescued by an unknown soldier. Lola becomes increasingly preoccupied with the identity of this soldier and sets out to discover the reasons why he spared Sanchez Mazas’ life.
Writer and director Trueba effectively adapts Javier Cerca‘s novel, which combines real life events and people (the elderly veterans Lola interviews are mostly played by themselves) with a fictional narrative, namely that of Lola and her own personal issues. Lola’s fascination with Sanchez Mazas and the soldier who saved him is shown to be an escape from her own frustrations regarding her failed career as a novelist and her dissatisfaction with her current situation at the university, providing her with a motivation that could potentially resurrect her writing career.
Interestingly, despite the occasional objection from others such as her fortune teller friend Conchi (Maria Botto), the film offers little criticism of Lola’s decision to pursue the story of the sparing of a Fascist’s life. This serves as a politically bold move that instead allows the focus to be shifted onto the event’s psychological effect, not only on Lola, but also on the surviving soldiers themselves.
Whilst the protagonist of Cerca’s novel is male, Gil provides Lola with enough personality to make gender irrelevant, with the character coming across as fully-rounded and three-dimensional. In particular, her relationships with Conchi and student Gaston (a young Diego Luna) show that there is more to Lola than simply being another ‘roving reporter’ archetype, with her scenes with Luna also hinting at an unspoken romantic connection that is interestingly left unexplored.
As a result of the above, Soldiers of Salamina serves as an intriguing look into the present day legacy of the Spanish Civil War through the eyes of one woman.