Rural life in a small Spanish village in the mountainous Galician region is hard work, but that is nothing compared with dealing with your neighbours. Middle-aged Antoine Denis (Denis Ménochet) and his wife Olga (Marina Foïs) have moved here to restore old dwellings and to grow crops on their small farm. They are from France and the locals regard them with suspicion.
At the local bar, Antoine is called ‘Frenchy’ by his neighbour Xan (Luis Zahera) who is highly critical of his presence. He doesn’t like the way Antoine is well-read and travelled. Worst of all he bears a grudge against Antoine because he voted against the erection of wind turbines in the area that would have provided the villagers with some much needed extra money.
Starting as banter at the bar, Xan and his brother Lorenzo (Diego Anido) ramp-up their campaign of intimidation. To defend himself Antoine videos their encounters but the local police say there is not enough evidence to do much about the matter. Unrestricted, the brothers hunt and stalk Antoine as if he is one of the wild horses that roam the region.
The psychological, as well as the physical, turning of the screw by the brothers is expertly choreographed by director Rodrigo Sorogoyen and the landscape is shown to be harsh, cold, intimidating and at times briefly reveals an underlying raw beauty.
The first half of the film deals with Antoine’s relationship with the male members of the community. The second half focuses on Olga, and her visiting daughter, as she fights to make the small holding a viable proposition and has to stand-up to male opposition.
The Beasts unravels the tensions surrounding cultural and deeply-felt historical issues. Antonio is the French newcomer who with his scientific farming methods upsets and disgusts Xan. Even though Antonio learns to speak better Spanish, Xan is not going to change his fixed views. On a personal level, Xan and Lorenzo live with their elderly mother, and they resent Antonio for having a wife. From Xan’s perspective, Antonio and Olga will always be invasive foreigners blighting their land.
The film has echoes of Jean de Florette (1986) in which farmers in Provence trick a newcomer who tries to make a success of a farm he has inherited, or Deliverance (1972) where the city slickers using the countryside for recreation are hounded by mountain men. The Beasts is more about the clash of national, gender, political, social and intellectual identities rather than just about brutal locals, criminality and fraudulent behaviour. At one stage it is suggested Antoine and Olga might be the real hillbillies, rather than Xan and Lorenzo.
There is no ultimate solution to such conflicts, and here we are presented with masculine violence contrasted with feminine coexistence and acceptance, as such it presents a microcosm of global tensions that escalate to outright warfare.
The Beasts is screening at Plymouth Arts Cinema until Wednesday 12th April.
Reviewed by Nigel Watson
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