A French couple’s dreams of the good life in rural northern Spain descend into all-out war with the locals in Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s superbly acted drama.
It was meant to be a purer, simpler way of life. Former teacher Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and his wife, Olga (Marina Foïs), relocated from their comfortable life in France to a smallholding in the Spanish hill country of Galicia. The aim is to grow organic vegetables and give back to the community by renovating abandoned village houses. But while the land may be fertile, it is drenched in bad blood. And while there’s a melancholy beauty in the verdant, mist-shrouded peaks, the hill people, as their menacing neighbour Xan (Luis Zahera) points out with relish, are an ugly bunch. There’s a simmering, creeping menace to Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s superb, award-winning thriller, a sense of an inevitable collision between the newcomers and those whose roots – and grudges – run generations deep in the Galician soil.
The modest village bar is Xan’s domain. Face sharpened by the elements, dissatisfaction and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of spite, he uses the gloomy room as a combat arena in which he goads his chosen target – in this case, Antoine. Xan and his brother Lorenzo are already at odds with the French couple over a planning dispute, but it soon becomes clear that Xan plans open warfare, and that Antoine is not one to back away from a fight.
Sorogoyen uses long, single-take scenes to capture the explosive buildup of tension; it’s a breathlessly compelling device that showcases the phenomenal quality of the acting. Ménochet brings a wounded-bear testiness to his performance, in contrast to Zahera’s snapping, attack-dog fury. But it’s the magnificent Foïs who carries the picture to its brutal conclusion.