In Madrid in 1939 during the final days of the Spanish Civil War, Virtudes and Carmen, two young idealistic Republican militants, are encouraging their neighbours to keep faith in the cause of the Republic. However, the entry of Franco's victorious troops into the city is eminent. Fearing the bloody repression that was coming, many Republicans are fleeing the country while others are unable or unwilling to do so.
Julia, a streetcar attendant, and her friend Adelina, a Red Cross worker, are also active sympathizers of the Spanish Republic. While spending an evening in a nightclub watching musicians perform, one of the last bombings of the city takes place. In those dire circumstances they befriend Blanca, whose husband Enrique is the musicians' band leader.
The triumph of the Francoist troops marks a dark turning point in the lives of those who sympathized with the Republic. Canepa, one of the musicians in Enrique's band, is a Republican militant. Fearing for his life, he decides to leave the country. Blanca, Enrique's wife, gives him some money to help him on his way. Meanwhile, Julia strikes up a relationship with dapper young nationalist soldier Perico.
It is rumoured that there was a plot to assassinate Franco on his victorious entry into the capital, and the nationalists are seeking revenge. Although the girls have nothing to do with it, they have been targeted for their propagandistic leftist activities. The first to be arrested is Julia, who, before too long, is being sadistically tortured by the orders of Fontenla, the cold-hearted officer in charge of the interrogations. Adelina, Virtudes' co-worker, like most of the others is a member of a socialist group. She is turned in by her well-meaning father in the naïve belief that nothing serious will happen to her and that she is just wanted for questioning.
Canepa and Teo are turned in by friends and neighbours and are tortured. Canepa commits suicide while under arrest. Teo has better luck and is eventually released on the condition that he has to secretly help to identify and capture his friends, sympathisers of the Republic. With Teo's help, one by one the girls are arrested, and soon they have all been jailed. Only Carmen, the youngest of the girls of the group, realises Teo's double-crossing, but she is also arrested. Blanca also suffers the same fate. Her only crime is to have given Canepa some money. After suffering heavy police interrogations, the young group of women are eventually transferred to an overcrowded prison.
The reunion of the girls in jail serves as a consolation to their dire circumstances. At one point, they even enjoy a bit of tap-dancing. Their families, including Adelina's grief-stricken father, are hoping that they will eventually be released. Blanca is worried about her small son that she was forced to leave behind. Her admirable behaviour and her serenity while in jail made her gain the respect of the woman in charge of the prison.
However, their situation worsens when the group of women complain of the terrible sanitary condition for the children imprisoned with their mothers. As a protest they jointly refused to sing the praises of the Franco regime. The fate of the 13 young women is sealed when two military officers and an innocent woman are killed in cold blood by a group of leftist revolutionaries. As a punishment, the regime orders the execution of some of the prisoners, though they have nothing to do with what has happened while they are in jail. A military court condemns the 48 men and 13 young women to death in less than 48 hours.
Carmen, the youngest of all, is the only survivor of the group. Desolated, she listens to the shots that killed her terrified friends.
The final frame of the film asserts that the bulk of the content is verifiable from documentation and that the script relies heavily on actual dialogue or writings from the central characters.Pilar López de Ayala – Blanca
Verónica Sánchez – Julia
Marta Etura – Virtudes
Nadia de Santiago – Carmen
Gabriella Pession – Adelina
Félix Gómez – Perico
Fran Perea – Teo
Enrico Lo Verso – Canepa
Adriano Giannini – Fontenla
Goya Toledo – Carmen Castro
Asier Etxeandia – Enrique
Bárbara Lennie – Dionisia
Arantxa Aranguren – Manuela
María Cotiello – Elena
Alberto Ferreiro – Valentí
María Isasi – Trini
Luisa Martín – Dolores
Secun de la Rosa – Satur
José Maria Cervino – Jacinto
The film is based on real-life events. It tells the story of 13 young women who were sentenced to death by a military court for a crime they had not committed: an attack on a military official during the first years of Franco's dictatorship in which three people died. The women were already in jail when the assault took place.
Arrested a month after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the women were sympathisers of the socialist Spanish Republic which was overthrown by the fascist Nationalist forces. They suffered harsh interrogations and were jailed at Las Ventas in Madrid. The women, known as the 13 roses were executed at dawn on 5 August 1939. Director Emilio Martinez-Lazaros opted to focus the film on fewer than half of the 13 women, however the plot follows several story lines.
Las 13 Rosas opened on 19 October 2007. In Spain the film only had a lukewarm reception from critics and audience. On the other hand, one elderly woman was heard to exclaim, after its first showing, that General Franco himself could not have known of the executions. To provoke that sense of worry in at least one viewer might itself be considered an achievement.
The film had a limited release in the USA in New York City. The review in Variety praised the cinematography and art direction, but remarked: "The 13 Roses largely withers on the vine. [The film] is further let down by its psychological superficiality… an uncertain treatment which convinces neither historically nor dramatically".
Las 13 rosas received 14 nominations to the Goya Awards. It won four Goyas: Best Cinematography, best Costume design, best original score and best supporting actor (José Manuel Cervino).
Las 13 Rosas is available in Region 2 DVD in Spanish with English subtitles.