'What is unsaid is undone': A Country Story
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 01/03/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón co-authored with Ángeles González Sinde and directed this little tale of life isolated in the Valle de Paz of the Northern Spanish province of Cantabria. The people who live here, herding cattle, farming, and selling milk, are set apart from the outside world - sort of a modern day throw back in time. Families ('pasiegos') carry the farm tradition through generations, unchanged until the present. The presence of the European Union has enforced laws about milk production that heightens animosities and competition between families resulting in the crux of this story.
Gildo (Juan Diego) is grumpy and demanding and has two daughters: Val (Marta Etura) who since her mother died has taken over the duties of keeping the house in order as well as doing all the chores to assist her father's dairy production, and Genia (Clara Lago) who as the younger one goes to school and spends her time dancing. Gildo's neighbor Severo (Celso Bugallo) works his cows alone: his only son Rai (Luis Tosar) has left the farm to become a hairdresser in the city. With the EU demands, Severo stands to lose his cows and when Gildo comes to claim his prize milking cow Vanessa, Severo threatens revenge, settling for a payment of the first calf of Vanessa. A year passes and Val takes the new promised calf to Severo, but Severo denies the calf's parentage and in anger ties Val and places her in his barn as prisoner. Gildo traces Val to the place of captivity only to be discovered by Severo while freeing his daughter and a struggle ensues resulting in the death of Severo.
Rai returns to the farm for his father's funeral and meets Val: an attraction is mutual. Gildo and Val disagree on telling the police the truth about the death of Severo and when Gildo's paranoia builds, he sends Val to pacify Rai, little knowing that Val is attracted to Rai. Val and Rai slowly fall in love, tension mounts with the EU and the police, and the truth about the death of Severo is revealed, forcing changes in the family of Gildo and in the relationship of Rai and Val. Gildo's prior harsh discipline of his girls meets with understanding and forgiveness from the daughters.
The story is simple, quiet, and reminiscent of a pastoral painting with the underlying mystery seemingly no more ominous than storm clouds over the valley. The actors are superb, the pacing is excellent, the cinematography by Gonzalo F. Berridi reveals Cantabria landscapes in a spectacular fashion, and the musical score by Xavier Capellas is wonderfully atmospheric. This is another jewel of a film from Spain and further evidence that Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón is one of Spain's most consistently fine directors. Recommended. In Spanish with English subtitles. Grady Harp, January 06
Good drama, kind of Romeo and Juliet amidst the cows
Robert J. Crawford | Balmette Talloires, France | 05/13/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of those European films that is extremely un-hollywood. You get really good, realistic characters, who evolve in believable ways, against a complex background that also reflects real-life issues. The acting is outstanding, with the older daughter a subtle and lonely beauty, whose youth is dribbling away in drudgery; her only love is her very bright sister. The father is a very interesting character, gruff and dealing with terrible pressures; the viewer's perception of him evolves radically through the film, which is a true delight. Finally, the younger suitor from the neighboring farm has a quiet charisma to him, which makes the chemistry between the lovers beautiful and sad.
The story, of course, is one of tragedy and change. In many ways, the quality is so high that it is agonizing to watch the unrolling of fate, which contains surprises. It is serious art, often lyrical in image, not fluffy entertainment.
Regarding the language, this is also a good film for students. While there is a lot of action, the language is fairly simple. While my Spanish is negligeable, because of Italian I could understand most of it (my version did not have an English language option, even in subtitles).