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'Josep': The anti-Franco fighter who sent love letters to Frida Kahlo from internment

The film traces the life of Josep Bartolí, who fought in the Spanish Civil War, befriended Rothko and Pollock, and became Frida Kahlo’s lover

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"February 1939. Ring a bell? Fleeing Franco's fascist regime, 500,000 Spanish refugees sought refuge in France. And what awaited them there? They were enclosed behind barbed wire, left to die of hunger, cold and illness..." Friendship blossomed between two men in one of these camps: a gendarme (Serge) and Josep Bartoli, a political illustrator and opponent of the Spanish Civil War with ties to the Communist Party.

To uncover this forgotten chapter in France and Spain's joint history and Bartoli's exile in New York and Mexico, where he met Frida Kahlo, awarded French filmmaker and cartoonist Aurel conceived Josep, an animation film that rummages through the anti-Franco artist's memories, sketching out two-dimensional snatches of the past in a bid to "find the sweet spot between animation and press cartoons." 

Presented at the Cannes Film Festival 2021, Josep won the award for Best Animated Film. 

Josep was not only a fierce anti-Franco fighter. After Serge slips Josep out of the interment camp one night so he can search for his missing fiancée, the Spanish artist escapes. As Serge tells it, they reunite in Mexico in 1943 where Josep is having an affair with Frida Kahlo.

“In a welcome bit of humor, Frida boasts a surprisingly frank and salty tongue. We see the astute observations she makes to Josep about his art come true as in his later life as he moves from black and white line drawings to abstract color paintings,” as reported in Variety.

“Through this film I wish to question the notion of commitment, resistance, testimony and of course uprooting. The resistance fighter is the one who physically opposes the unbearable, even at the cost of his life,” wrote Aurel on the European Film Awards website. “The journalist is the one who observes and must preserve his life in order to testify. Bartolí was both. He took up the pencil when weapons became useless. My grandfathers chose to take up arms when they had to. I have my pencil to say what can be better.”

Watch Josep on Ovid and Amazon Prime.

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