Filming of Caleta Palace / migue fernández

Caleta Palace docudrama portrays the Civil War in Malaga

The mythical establishment has been recreated for the production which brings together guests and visitors who witnessed the horror that preceded the Desbandá massacre

Francisco Griñán

The poet Federico García Lorca holidayed there, Sir Peter Chalmers-Mitchell did not miss a cocktail at sunset and, with the outbreak of the Civil War, the hotel was filled with Russian airmen and spies of different nationalities. The Caleta Palace hotel was the symbol of a cosmopolitan and open Malaga that lost its spirit when Franco’s troops invaded in 1936.

But now the hotel's legacy has been revived with the filming of a mockumentary that bears the name of the legendary establishment and which has transformed the current offices of the central government’s Malaga representation into the hotel that the writers Gerald Brenan and Gamel Woolsey, the socialist agent Arthur Koestler, the photographer Gerda Grepp, lawyer Mercedes Formica, Italian soldier Bonaventura Caloro, the Francoist journalist and businessman Luis Bolín and Chalmers-Mitchell frequented.

"This crossroads of testimonies from all of those involved is my way of approaching an episode of the Civil War in Malaga that is never fully appreciated or understood", explains director José Antonio Hergueta.

To coincide with the 84th anniversary of the beginning of the war, Hergueta has reincarnated the Caleta Palace to show a dark chapter of Malaga’s history that is still hidden: the months between the military uprising in 1936 to the fall of Malaga and the events of the Desbandá in February 1937.

The Desbandá, when thousands of people fleeing Malaga along the Almeria road (now the N340 coastal road), were massacred by Franco’s troops and Italian and German warships and planes, has been uncovered in recent decades. However, what happened during the lead up to one of Spain’s bloodiest episodes still remains largely unknown. It was the theme of a short film, 'Paraíso en llamas', (Paradise in flames) made by Hergueta, for which he was nominated a Goya in 2021.

National and international testimonies

"This film goes beyond this circumstance, it is necessary to tell the stories of characters in which there is no equidistance or settling of scores, but rather human emotion," says the filmmaker, who has brought to Caleta Palace a cast of well-known Spanish actors: Miguel Rellán plays Sir Peter Chalmers-Mitchell, Amparo Pamplona, Nadia de Santiago, Fernando Ramallo, Miguel Hermoso and Pepe Viyuela, as well as Pedro Casablanc and Ana del Arco who played, respectively, Koestler and Grepp in Paraíso en Llamas.

Although the director and screenwriter had originally included twelve characters, the final plot is based on eight testimonies of national and international witnesses who wrote down the impact of what happened in Malaga in 1936 and 1937. Those that didn’t make the final cut were the Mexican diplomat Porfirio Smerdou, the American diplomat Edward Norton and the Russian soldier Elizabeta Parshina,

Sir Peter Chalmers-Mitchell penned his own experience of the Civil War from his residence in the neighbourhood of El Limonar in his book 'My house in Malaga'. "We have up to three versions of the same event, which gives us a very complete vision of people who lived through it first hand," says Hergueta, who adds that, regardless of ideology, many of these witnesses, such as the Republican Gerald Brenan and the conservative Mercedes Formica, portrayed the horror of both sides.

"In the end they all lost because they were expelled from paradise and the view from the 'Caleta Palace' serves me to portray the violence without the need to show it," concludes the filmmaker.

Miguel Rellán who plays Sir Peter Chalmers-Mitchell speaking to director José Antonio Hergueta / Migue Fernández