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mplayer plays flv, gnash plays swf (and technically flv as well throught swf)
My understanding is that swf is a container which can hold various things, such as flash video and animations. If an swf file contains a flash video (flv) mplayer can play it. If it contains other things, mplayer can't.
Please correct me if I'm wrong. The whole container/codec thing is quite confusing.