With over 100 interviews and reels upon reels of archive footage, Basque Ball is an incisive documentary on Spain, ETA, and the Basque region. Director Julio Medem is best known for his stylishly erotic love stories (The Red Squirrel, Sex And Lucia), but in this exhaustive documentary (bordering on information overload), he delivers a fascinating overview of the torturous politics of the Basque area and the region's notorious terrorist separatist group.
Controversial in the extreme, Medem's documentary has drawn sharp censure from the Spanish authorities, with Spain's Minster for Culture branding the film "suspicious". Such a
response is typical of the passions that the Basque issue stirs up. Fortunately, Medem's even-handed approach straddles both sides of the political spectrum, treating the complex web of history, identity and politics surrounding his subject with great maturity.
"A HEADY MIX OF COMPETING VOICES"
"A Beginners Guide to the Basque" this certainly isn't. Interviewing a range of artists, politicians, priests, activists, journalists, and academics, Medem delivers a torrent of contradictory opinions, painting a vivid history of both the Basque region and its contested status. It's a heady mix of competing voices: disorientating, dizzying, and demanding.
At times, there's so much being thrown at the audience, it's impossible to keep up. Perhaps what's most telling, though, is what isn't here: representatives of Jose Maria Aznar's government and ETA both declined to take part.
With the 'War on Terror' lurking quietly in the background and the spectre of the Madrid bombings adding a further layer to the film's discussion of terrorism, this is a timely, though exhausting, info dump of a movie.
It's also a dire warning about the dangers of political deadlock. As one of the film's interviewees argues: "Things are black and white now. You're either with me or against me. We've forgotten all the colours in between." Given the present state of the world, that's a point that resonates far beyond Spain and ETA.
In Spanish with English subtitles.