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Tiempo de Silencio (Time of Silence) is a 1986 Spanish novel by Luis Martín-Santos. The novel was published in 1962 and tell the story of an ambitious doctor who is accused of killing a woman while he tried to save her life after a botched abortion. Time of silence is an intriguing tale of sex, death and alienation with philosophical overtones.

The story is set in Madrid in the late 1940s early 1950s during the first years of Franco’s regime. Pedro Martín, a young and ambitious doctor, is studying the effect of cancerous cells on mice, but he has run out of mice in his laboratory, since they do not breed there, and he has no funds to purchase more of these expensive laboratory animals from the United States. Nevertheless, his assistant, Amador, informs him that he gave some of the mice to an old trapper, nicknamed “el Muecas”, who lives in precarious conditions in a shanty town outside Madrid, and that this poor man has successfully bred them with the help of the natural heat of his daughters. The incredulous scientist goes to the shanty town to obtain the mice. There, Pedro meets Muecas, Muecas’s wife Ricarda and their two daughters Florita and Conchi. With the warmth of the women’s breasts, as the flirtatious Florita shows Pedro, the mice are able to reproduce.

Pedro himself lives in a modest boarding house run by a military widow and her daughter Dora, who also has a vivacious daughter, Dorita. The owner of the boarding house tries to encourage the doctor to fall in love with his granddaughter, Dorita, so that his medical career may release them all from a life of squalor and penury. During her birthday reunion, Dorita clearly shows Pedro that she is interested in him. Pedro and his rich friend Matias discuss literature and painting in a café and later they go out for a night of heavy partying in a house of prostitution in which Matias gets involves with a prostitute that closely resembles his own mother. Returning to his boarding house, Pedro goes to Dorita’s bed. He excuses himself for being drunk, but she welcomes his advanced and they make love, starting a relationship.

Pedro is awakened at dawn by Muecas who needs his help as a doctor and begs him to save the life of his daughter, Florita, who is severely hemorrhaging after a botched abortion. Pedro tries to do what he can to save the girl’s life, but she dies in spite of his efforts. With the horrific death of her sister, Conchi reveals that Muecas was the father of the dead child in an incestuous relationship with his own daughter. Cartucho, a low life tough guy, boyfriend of the butchered Florita, is jealous of the doctor and after talking to Amador, extracts a false confession. Amador makes him wrongly belief that Pedro is guilty of having aborted the child and killed the mother. Later that day, Pedro is sought by the local police. Dorita warns him and Pedro hides in the local brothel run by Doña Luisa. Meanwhile, Matias begs Amador to tell the police the truth of Pedro’s innocence, but Amador refuses to cooperate.

The police finally apprehend Pedro, who surprisingly, confesses rather than admit the truth because of the absurdity of the situation. Ricarda, Florita’s mother, follows the remains of her deceased daughter to the place where the autopsy is performed. She can not calm down and is arrested for interrupting the medical examiners. Meanwhile Pedro’s girlfriend, Dorita and Matias try to help him using Matias’s influences in order to set Pedro free, but they do not succeed. However, in the commissary, Ricarda, realizing that the doctor has wrongly accused of her daughter death, tells what have happened. Her testimony saves the doctor from prison. To celebrate his freedom, Pedro and Dorita go to a fair. They have been followed by Cartucho, who jealously watches Pedro dance with Dorita. Still believing that Pedro is guilty of Florita’s death, Cartucho takes advantage of a moment in which Pedro is away buying some sweets and stabs Dorita. When Pedro returns just a moment later, Dorita is already dead.


The role of Dorita was significantly expanded from the novel to take advantage of Victoria Abril, to add explicit sex scenes and to contrast the passivity of Pedro’s character with Dorita vivacity.

Imanol Arias … Pedro

Victoria Abril … Dorita

Francisco Rabal … Muecas

Juan Echanove …Matias

Charo López … Charo/ Matias’ mother

Joaquín Hinojosa… Cartucho

Francisco Algora … Amador

Diana Peñalver … Conchi

Blanca Apilánez …Pilar

Enriqueta Claver… Luisa


Incest, death and alienation, are the three major themes. Aranda added a literary and philosophical dimension to the screenplay. The novel is about government failure; individual lost of responsibility, and urban poverty. The story is framed in the post civil war years under the shadow of Franco’s regime and the yearning for freedom and enlightenment.

Tiempo de Silencio is an accurate representation of Spain post civil war period, a denunciation of the reality of Franco’s Spain in the 1950, from which Aranda himself emigrated in 1952, the same period in which the action takes place. It adheres to an unforgiving neorealist aesthetic.

The nightmarish scene of the abortion Pedro performs on the dying Florita famously includes the chilling sound of the scalpel scraping her womb. The intrusive shots at the autopsy are extremely harsh, in keeping with the explicit portrayal of sex and violence that characterizes Aranda’s filmography.

Aranda shrewdly transformed Martins Santos’s linguistically suggestive time of ‘silence” into a visually expressive time of ‘entrapment”; furthermore the almost complete absence of music on the soundtrack has been more literally related to the novel’s title. The film opens with images of caged dogs, bandaged from injuries sustained during experiments in the laboratory. The recurrent images of entrapment is not just a playful prefiguration of Pedro’s literal imprisonment, but a sober portrayal of Francoist Spain as a figurative society of imprisonment.

The final sequence resembles the murder scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) as Cartucho stalks his victim, and like Hitchcock, points to the incongruity between the jaunty fairground music and the brutal murder.

Unlike the novel that was based upon, it brings out the oppressive atmosphere of Spain’s post-civil war years. When Spain was seeking enlightenment and freedom but was strangled in the vortex of darkness, ignorance and day to day survival. There is no let-up to the pessimism. Aranda’s work is bleak, ugly, beautiful; and unrelenting. 

The final voice over of Pedro in his laboratory regarding his sense of futility and oppression both underscores the meaning of the title of the novel and lends it an air of literariness of the original narrative. Just as Martín Santos’s novel portrays a Spain that is backward and repressed, with its intellectuals trapped in a time of silence, so too does the cinematographic adaptation by Vicente Aranda.Aranda’s version of the absurd world in which Pedro lives does not depend on the subtle ironies of the literary text, however; instead some scenes elicited overt laughter from the audience.


Tiempo de Silencio was criticized for failing to match the highly regarded novel on which it was based. The novel, written by Martin Santos, has a labyrinthine fragmented structure and ironic narrator. It has been described as “a novel written by an intellectual, about intellectuals and intended to be read by intellectuals”. However, there is general recognition in contemporary reviews and subsequent scholarly criticism that Tiempo de Silencio is one of the most artistically successful literary adaptations of the 1980s in Spain’s filmography.

Tiempo de Silencio was released on a region 2 DVD on June 19, 2007. The film is in Spanish only. There are not English subtitles. The extras include an interview with director Vicente Aranda and actors Imanol Arias and Juan Echanove.

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