BY Alfonso Rivera
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If there is one word that defines Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s films –and series (see the magnificent Riot Police [+]) – it is tension. This feeling of angst, that upsets the stomach to the point of discomfort, is abundant in Madre [+], The Realm [+] and May God Save Us [+], and of course in The Beasts [+], the film with which the Madrid filmmaker is making his first appearance at the Cannes Film Festival, as it is presented in the Cannes Première section.
Set, as its original title indicates, in Galicia, a region of intense beauty, that has to struggle between deep-rooted traditions, simmering away for centuries, with the worrying future of the new times and the assault of capitalism (sometimes disguised as ecology), The Beasts lays out a parallelism, both beautiful and brutal, between the famous “Rapa das bestas” festival (whose iconography this feature film begins with) and one of the most dramatic moments of its plot.
Its conflict, inspired by real events, is seen from the introduction of the characters themselves, half-hidden in the dim light of a rural bar, where the locals play dominoes while a foreigner listens to their stories. Although they share territory, they are separated by habits, principles, language, life plans and, above all, a brutal lack of understanding.
This lack of understanding will crescendo as the film progresses, which, like a pressure cooker, introduces uncertainty into the lives of a French couple living in the mountains of north-western Spain. Sorogoyen and Isabel Peña, his faithful screenwriter, the neighbourhood disagreements between the protagonists and the antagonists gradually escalate until what was sensed from the very first minute erupts (and that wait is especially agonizing).
Divided into two time frames, The Beasts is not only disturbing but also deeply moving. Beneath its violent film texture (it is impossible not to recall films like Backwoods [+], Perros de paja and Deliverance, to name a few of the “you are not welcome here” subgenre) pulsates a thrilling love story: a shared idealism capable of overcoming any fear, tragedy and threat.
But before concluding this review, we must highlight the director’s skill in pacing the suspense, some particularly inspired dialogue (the discussion between mother and daughter in the kitchen) and the work of the actors, both French and Galician alike: Marina Foïs, Denis Ménochet, Marie Colomb, Luis Zahera and the great discovery of the film, Diego Anido (who bets he will be the next winner of the Goya for best newcomer or supporting actor?).