Cinergía Movie File:

Ay. Carmela! 

Directed by Carlos Saura, 1990


Movie Files Home
Movie File Components

This file was created by Deanna Kohrs

Scroll down or Click on any section to jump ahead:

Section 1: Pre-screening

Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism

    Section 3: Media analysis

Section 1: Pre-screening  

Note: Given the transitory nature of internet resources we suggest conducting a search to help answer the pre-screening questions.  Only a few links are included below.

A Desperate Democracy Disregarded

(English)  This is a site explains how aid that Franco received from countries such as Germany and Italy helped him win the war.  It also explains why the U.S., France and Britain remained neutral and how this led to the republic’s demise. This includes important information concerning why Italian and German troops are aiding Franco in the town in which the variety show takes place in “Ay Carmela”.  This site also is a sub-link available from  Anarchism and the Spanish Civil War,” which emphasizes anarchism and fascism in the Spanish Revolution.  It provides links about events preceding the war, the Revolution, and events after the Revolution at:  

España Siglo XX

(Spanish) This detailed site focuses on El Franquisimo and the Transition.  It provides a superb history of both sides of the war and supplies links to explanations of the communist party (PCE) and the socialist party (PSOE).

Guerra Civil Española

(Spanish)  This site gives a list of brief highlights for each year of the war from 1936-1939.  A brief introduction is included, and information related to 1938 is provided (the year in which “Ay Carmela” is situated). Essential information related to the division of Spain is explained, such as the division of Republican and Nationalist cities.

Carteles Replicanos de la Guerra Civil:  Republican Posters from the Civil War

(Spanish)  This site provides a virtual exposition of republican posters of the Spanish Civil War and provides may symbols found in the movie “Ay, Carmela.”  Also the opening scene of the film is that of a war-town and building walls full of such posters.

 Operata, Zarzuela, Folklore

(Spanish) This site defines the Spanish zarzuela and provides some background information on the Spanish comedy.  The zarzuela basically is show including dialogues, songs and dance similar to that portrayed in the Variety show illustrated in the film.

Plot summary of “Ay Carmela” and Movie Review

(English)  Provides a very brief plot summary of the war-drama, “Ay, Carmela,” as well as a longer review of the movie.  These sites also provide links about the director, actors involved, and year it was filmed and produced.

Part II)  Pre-screening questions

  1. When was the Spanish Civil War, how is it different from other civil wars (such as the American Civil War, for instance), and what major world event did it precede?
  1. What main events led up to the Spanish Civil War and how was Spain different from other European countries at that time period?
  1. Who were the two opposing sides in the war and for what was each side fighting?  Name some of the individuals involved in each party, especially noting the leader(s) if specific individuals are mentioned. 
  1. Where did the two opposing sides receive their aid for fighting the war?  What  type of aid did each side receive and why did each specific country become involved in the war?  What did they have to gain or lose?  
  1. Why did some countries remain neutral in the Spanish Civil War and what consequences did this have on the outcome of the war? List the countries and the reasons.
  1. What main geographical locations did each political side control and how did this affect the war?  What was the last major city to fall to the victorious party and who won the war?
  1. What are some symbols associated with each of the two parties in the Civil War?  For instance, describe the flag of each side and colors associated with both communism and fascism.
  1. What is the International Brigade and what importance did it have in the Spanish Civil War?  List some of the countries involved in the International Brigade.
  1. During the war, how was the economy of the country affected?  Explain the resources (or lack of resources) available to both the loyalist and republican side.
  1. What is the zarzuela and how does it relate to time period involved in the Spanish Civil War?  What is Vaudeville and how is it different to and similar from the Spanish zarzuela?  How did each theatrical piece evolve and why?
  1. What was role of the women during the war, how were they involved in war-time activities, and how does the role of women involved in theatrical productions (such as the zarzuela) at that time differ
  1. What is the plot of “Ay Carmela,” 1990, by Carlos Saura, and how does it relate to the information gathered above?

Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism  

Part I:  Comprehension Questions

1.       Who are the main characters involved in the movie, and how would you describe each? Give specific characteristics and supporting evidence for your answers.

2.       What is the theme of the film and what is the setting?  How does Carlos Saura represent Spain and how does it contribute to the tone of the film?  Think about the season portrayed, for instance.

3.       How does the scene with the airplanes flying overhead in the midst of the variety show for the Republican Army prefigure proceeding events in the film?

4.       Paulino dedicates the recitation of a poem by Antonio Machado to General Listo of the Ebro army.  What significance does the town Ebro have in the Civil War during this year (1938) and what context does this provide in the movie?

5.       Why are the main characters working in the front of the war? Are the main characters particular to either the Republican or Nationalist/Loyalist side of the war and why do you think this?

6.       How is the economy of Spain portrayed in the “Ay,Carmela” and how do the resources differ for the Republicans and Nationalists?

7.       Why does the fact that Carmela, Gustavete and Paulino are traveling to Valencia force them into capture?  What piece of evidence secures their arrest?  

  1. Why are there Italian and German troops involved in the war?  Which side do they support and how are they represented in the film?
  1. What symbols, colors and salutes represent the Nationalists and what symbols, etc. embody the Republicans? 
  1. Why are their prisoners from the International Brigade in the Nationalist jail and what importance do these characters have in the movie? For instance, why is Carmela so fascinated with the Polish soldier and how does this affect her character?
  1. Why does Paulino agree to perform the variety show for the Italian lieutenant and how does Carmela react to this?  What does this say about their loyalties to both sides in the Civil War?  
  1. How does the flashing projector in the interrogation of the 3 actors with the Italian lieutenant prefigure the climax of the movie?
  1. What do you think Paulino’s use of Italian and repetition of the phrase “Creer, obedecer y combatir” (Believe, obey and fight) say about his character?

14.   What symbolic importance does the flag used in both the variety show at the beginning of the movie and near the end of the movie have? Whose flag is it and what symbolic importance does it have in comparison to the three flags used as the curtain at the Nationalist variety show?

15.   Describe the scene with the flag in the Nationalist variety show.  How do Paulino and Carmela repeatedly offend the flag with their comments, and what specific color is criticized and why?  Also, what does Gustavete represent in this scene and why is this import?

16.   Why are the prisoners and members of the International Brigade so offended at the scene described above?  How does this act serve as the climax of the film?  

17.   What turning point changes an essential aspect in the personality of Gustavete, what exactly happens and what do you think this represents?

18.   Think about Carmela’s character and her role as a rather independent woman in this film.  Why does Carmela’s behavior become so reckless, therefore contributing to her death, and how does this symbolize the outcome of the war?

Part II:  Historical Accuracy

  1. Considering the information gathered on the prevalence of the zarzuela and variety shows in Spain during this era, how common do you think these theatrical acts were in entertaining soldiers?  Could this just be an idea that Carlos Saura adopted from American vaudeville acts and history?
  1. While German and American soldiers aided Franco and his Nationalist forces in the Civil War, how common do you think it was for an Italian lieutenant, such as Lt. Amelio Giovani, to be in charge of a Nationalist town instead of a Spanish lieutenant?
  1. Do you think Carmela’s melodramatic character and reckless behavior accurately represents the Republican cause?  Do she continuously stand up for her beliefs as a true Republican? 
  1. How was the International Brigade represented?  For instance, simply by watching the film, what countries do you think were involved in the International Brigade and how accurate is this assumption?
  1. Does the movie provide an accurate sense of both the Republican and Nationalist parties? Simply by watching the film, do you learn more about the war or more about a possibly fictitious variety show?   For instance, what Republican images are provided and are many soldiers and townspeople even represented?
  1. What type of representation of Mussolini’s troops is provided?  Do you think is it stereotypical that they are shown drinking wine, eating pasta, and smoking?  What about the comment about them being a band of “maricones” when they sing a song to commemorate soldiers fallen in battle?
  1. The introduction to the movie lists the troops supporting Franco, such as Nazi Germany and Mussolini, yet it also states that the Republicans received aid from Poland, America and France.  How accurate is this assumption and when did each country supporting the Republic enter the war? 


Section 3: Media analysis  

Unification of forces: Spain and the International Brigade

After the members of the variety show are captured by the Nationalist Forces and taken to a prison in a Republican town taken over by Franco’s troops and allies, Carmela makes friends with a Polish international brigade soldier.  This still highlights their attempt at communicating in two different languages about their commonalities.  The close-up draws emphasis to the leading lady, Carmela, and the polish soldier (whose fate Carmela obsesses over later in the film).  The key light in this frame emanates from a source slightly above the head of the Polish solder and to the left, and both their dark shadows and clothing contrast with the light colored map, which serves as their primary tool of communication as they discuss their origins.  The two characters form a balanced composition in the still and the spectator is forced to intimately watch this exchange of information.  It is the only point in the movie in which the International Brigade is represented with a voice, and therefore subtly alludes to the sacrifices they made for the Republican cause. 

The small friendship that is formed here foreshadows the climax of the movie when Carmela begins yelling at Franco’s forces during the variety show to stop hitting the brigade soldiers (which ironically, leads to her own demise as well).  Also, during the variety show, the soldiers begin singing the song “Ay, Carmela,” which this still foreshadows after the young Polish man learns Carmela’s name.  This song seems to unify all aspects of the movie since it is played in the opening scene, the prison scene as depicted above, the Nationalist variety show as well as the closing shots after the cemetery. Its lyrics depict both the difficulties and pride of the Republican forces, which this soldier represents through his devotion their cause.               

Paulino’s fear in prison Paulino saluting the fascist forces

           These two stills portray the contrasting actions of Paulino and his uncertain principles when faced with death after being charged with supporting the Republican army through the “Varietes a lo fino” show.  The still of Paulino in the Nationalist prison, with Gustavette resting in the background, reveals his fear upon contemplating their predicament.  His furrowed brow and down-turned mouth are shown in deep focus in the extreme close-up with chiaroscuro lighting.  The contemplative features of this character actor are brought into close perspective through the use of the camera angle level with his face.  The key light radiates from the right of the frame and slightly overhead, emphasizing his eyes and casting a deep shadow on the rest of his face.  Paulino seems to be staring straight ahead as if trying to accept their precarious situation, while in the back of the frame Gustavette and the Republican mayor are shown in soft focus and contrasting light.

            In contrast to the still in the prison, the second extreme close-up of Paulino captures his face from a frontal perspective hailing Franco and the fascist allies of Mussolini and Hitler.  Instead of deep chiaroscuro lighting, a bright frontal key light illuminates him and the bright colors of the Nationalist flag in the frame.  The low angle shot draws attention to his blank, robotic face and his salute to the fascist army, also shown in deep focus.  At this point in the scene, the audience is yelling, “Hail Franco! Hail Hitler!, and Hail Mussolini!,” while Paulino passively conforms.  This still captures his betrayal to the Republican cause, for instead of entertaining and giving comic relief to Republican soldiers, he is performing for the Nationalist side in order to save his life, as well as Carmela’s and Gustavette’s.  His ambiguous actions show his conflicting perspectives and ideals towards the Civil War, as both extreme close-ups portray.  The lighting in each still greatly contrast one another, as well as the angle of the camera, colors and facial expressions.  It clearly stresses his undetermined devotion between both sides of the war.

The doctor examining the sick patient

This poignant still from the Nationalist Variety Show, which favors Franco’s side of the Civil War, represents the climax when the Carmela, Paulino and Gustavette insult the Republicans and the International Brigade prisoners.  Through the construction of the long shot and the use of the principal light emanating from the flashing projector (a moment that was foreshadowed earlier in the film), emphasis is placed on the humiliating portrayal of the Republican flag and democratic ideals.  In the frame, their shadows are cast darkly upon the brick wall, contrasting with the bright light that magnifies the Republican flag wrapped disrespectfully around Carmela’s body as the doctor examines her “illness.”  Gustavette, the mute supporting actor, is dressed as a Russian, symbolic of Stalin’s efforts to aid the Republicans, and therefore represents the fear that the fascists felt towards the communist “reds.”  Paulino is captured in the still insolently commenting on the red blotches and “that awful purple color” that distinguishes the Republican flag from the Nationalist one.  This scene is the highlighting moment in which Paulino abandons his personals convictions in order to ironically save Carmela, Gustavette and himself.  In contrast to Paulino, the bright light emphasizes the indecision on Carmela’s face about participating in this scene, as her clutched hands and wide eyes illustrate. 

This still precedes the symbolic death of Carmela.  Since she metaphorically represents the Republicans by wearing the flag and bearing her “nakedness” to Dr. “Tocametodo,” her death symbolizes the defeat of the Republican army at the end of the Civil War.  While her demise paints a bleak picture for the Republicans and the long dictatorship ahead, it also profoundly affects Gustavette and changes an aspect of his character during this climatic scene.  After living a mute life without the freedom of expression, upon seeing Carmela fall to the stage, he finally finds his voice to protest and maintain the Republican ethics.    


The grave

This still at the gravesite sums up the resolutions that take place in the film “Ay, Carmela”.   Through the use of this low-angle shot of Gustavette and Paulino, the viewer looks up at the two characters as they carry both flowers and the grave marker to indicate Carmela’s resting place.  While the key light seems to dominate from the natural light of the sun in the background behind them to the left, their faces are gently illuminated by a soft fill light on the right side of the frame to show the emotion etched on their faces.  The depth of the frame is shallow as to give importance to the symbolic items in their hands.  For example, in this medium shot, specific attention needs to be given to the miniature chalkboard that Gustavette holds in his hand.  Throughout the film, Gustavette uses the board to speak since he was mute and couldn’t express his thoughts without this tool.  Yet, during the death of Carmela (disrespectfully dressed in the Republican flag during the Nationalist variety show), Gustavette screams with agony “¡Ay, Carmela!” and finds his voice for the first time.  As a result, Gustavette no longer needs to use the board as a crutch and ironically places it on the ground to mark Carmela’s grave.  Overall, the death of Carmela represents the defeat of the Republican army in the Civil War, yet upon her death, Gustavette symbolically finds a voice to continue the protest of discontent during Franco’s forty year reign as dictator.


Part II:  Media Literacy Questions

  1. Whose interests are reflected in “Ay, Carmela”, and how is this perspective is presented?
  1. Who produced the film, what was the intended audience, and why was the film made? 
  1. Compare the year “Ay, Carmela” was produced with the death of Franco.  How does this relate to this film’s purpose and production in comparison to Franco’s censured regime?
  1. Was this film seen often in the country it was intended for?  How did the audience receive it?  (Did it receive any awards?)
  1. Who does most the speaking in the film?  What type of viewpoint is presented to the audience? 
  1. How does the song “Ay, Carmela”, which is played at the beginning, middle and ending of the movie, eco the plot of the film?  How does the song contribute to the ending of the large shot when Paulino and Gustavete drive into the distance? 
  1. What other songs or poems stand out from the film and how do they aid the desired perspective of the movie?
  1. How are the use of the symbols of the Republican and Nationalist Flags, as well as the colors red and blue, helpful in understanding the commentary about democracy and fascism in relation to this historical event portrayed in the film?
  1. How are the uses of camera angles helpful in creating certain emotions and feelings?  When are the close-up shots used and which distance shots stand out? 
  1. Think about the lighting used in the movie.  How does the contrast lighting/ chiaroscuro contribute to the scene in the Nationalist jail in the schoolyard, the scene with the Italian Lieutenant in the theater with the main characters and the scene of the variety show for Franco’s loyalist troops?
  1. Do you think each side of the Civil War was equally represented? Do you think a viewpoint is not heard?
  1. What judgments can be made about the truth and accuracy of the text?  Where all Germans and Italians on Franco’s side, or were some involved in the International Brigade as well?
  1. Do you think both German troops and Italian troops are represented equally in the movie? Do you see more of one than the other and why do you think this is so? 
  1. How well is the Spanish setting and landscape represented?  Was the entire country a battle-zone and all towns decrepit from the war? 

Cinergía Home

Copyright 2000-2007

This site created and maintained by 

Sophia A. McClennen



Created on 4/10/01 

Last updated on 07/26/2007