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Nevenka: Breaking the Silence Review 2021 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
The woman at the center of “Nevenka: Breaking the Silence” (Friday, Netflix) could not have known that when, as an ambitious student in her 20s with political interests, she was elected to the city council of Ponferrada, Spain, in 1999, the experience would launch her on a path to fame, if that of a rocky kind. A political conservative with a master’s degree, in her new job she worked alongside Ismael Alvarez, mayor of the city.
The first step on that unintended route to fame began when she made a public declaration in 2001 describing the sustained, abusive treatment she had received from the mayor in retaliation for her refusal to accommodate his demand for sexual favors. When she followed these revelations with an actual lawsuit against Mayor Alvarez, which, remarkably enough, she won—she was 26 years old at the time—she made history. No politician had ever been convicted of such charges in Spain, nor been required by a court to pay a fine and compensation—12,000 euros (subsequently lowered). In this three-part documentary (director, Maribel Sánchez Maroto )—whose picture of the popular response to the case in Spain is blood-chilling— Nevenka Fernández recalls the case history 20 years later with clinical directness: a sort that proves deeply affecting as bare-bones factuality so often does.
It isn’t altogether surprising to see in picture after picture the crowds that gathered in the streets after the trial ended, after the revelations of the mayor’s gross acts of retaliation against Nevenka for her refusal to provide sex. Crowds roaring their undying love for Mayor Alvarez, their belief that no greater mayor had ever lived. But that it is unsurprising in no way diminishes the impact of this display of loyalty that knows no bounds, no matter what the accused leader has done—a familiar enough sight in our world, to be sure, and not just in the Spanish city of Ponferrada 20 years ago. Which doesn’t make it any less repellent a spectacle, and the filmmakers have ensured that powerful effect with a treasury of period scenes. They’re images that reveal worlds about the general view people of this Spanish city held just two decades ago—and proudly—of a woman who dared accuse an important man of sexual harassment: a man everyone knew and admired.
It did not increase her popularity that the accuser was polished, educated and very beautiful. There is in the eyes of the women in the film footage shouting their scorn a blazing hatred that’s unforgettable. As are the signs women carried testifying that no one was ever going to harass themsexually. Translation: It doesn’t happen if you’re not asking for it.
The popular Ismael Alvarez had, it’s certain, never before received so much adulation. The documentary doesn’t mention it, but once the trial was over, none other than the wife of Spain’s then prime minister reportedly delivered a message of praise for the convicted mayor.
There was, Ms. Fernández reflects in the film, one way in which she might have contributed to her situation. She had, early in her time working alongside the mayor, whom she admired, allowed herself to slide from friendship into a sexual fling with him. But it was not, she notes, anything she felt comfortable with. She soon let Mayor Alvarez know she wanted to end the affair. Here she would discover one of the essential, if under-reported, truths about the characters of men who become sexual predators—namely, that they don’t allow the end of the relationship: The woman doesn’t get to say goodbye, it’s over. The story of Nevenka, an education on many counts, is a perfect model of the pathology involved.
Even in the normal world, countless women can remember their lives touched by the boyfriend who wouldn’t go away—who kept loitering because it was impossible for him to accept that the relationship had ended. Nevenka’s colleague was the boyfriend grown up to be a routine predator. Her nightmarish life of bitter phone calls from him, notes, degrading public insults, calls to her parents complaining about her work, began when she told him she had no wish to continue the affair. Having allowed such a thing to begin in the first place, she had concluded long ago, was likely the action that set them on this path, and one about which she felt some guilt.
Though not enough, fortunately, to diminish her rationality, her courage, her sense of obligation to seek justice for a woman so treated.
The film may not have addressed, fully, the questions posed by that footage of women screaming their hatred of Nevenka just 20 years ago—not exactly the Middle Ages. It’s enough, however, that they were raised, in ways that underscore the powers of this haunting work.
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