“In order to defend their lives in freedom, the aloitadores immobilize the beast’s hand to hand to shave and brand them.”
When the lens opens to take us out of the blackness of the titles, a wild and poetic sequence introduces us to the world of The Beasts (2022). Man against the beast in an ancient dance fueled by pure testosterone. Force prevails over reason; dominance is established, and territory is marked as conquered. Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen (May God Save Us, The Candidate) uses metaphor to introduce his subject. In slow motion we see that wild horse being tamed and the lens closing on its muzzle, which beats exhausted, as an inevitable foreshadowing of what is to come.
Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and his wife Olga (Marina) have left their native France to settle in a remote community in Galicia. The closeness to nature, working the land and living from its fruits is all that motivates them. But his arrival breaks with the normal dynamics of the small town. Tensions begin to escalate mainly with their neighbors, the brothers Xan (Luis Zahera) and Lorenzo (Diego Anido). As the script, co-written by Isabel Peña and Sorogoyen himself, begins to unfold, we understand the root of the problem, but social, political, environmental sub-themes and human nature itself are also being raised. It is not just the big corporation that wants to appropriate the land to profit under the banner of environmental protection. There is also xenophobia, parent-child relationships and the link between human beings and their environment.
Of beast and men
The director uses the drama to seduce us, but once we’re inside it’s the suspense that immobilizes us. We beat to the rhythm of that Antoine with whom it is easy to identify and with him we experience the fear that Xan instills with each word and with each look. The universe of The Beasts evokes the atmosphere of Peckinpah in his Straw Dogs (1971). The victims and the executioners are different, but in the structure of their staging they share the same essence. The camera of Alejandro de Pablo (The Candidate) is responsible for getting under the skin of the protagonists. Those close-ups of Antoine are masterful and show everything that his words don’t say. He does the same with the antagonistic character of Xan, from the way he lights him to the angles he decides to use to frame him. Luis Zahera delivers an interpretation for the story and creates one of the most memorable villains of the last decades.
Between the lines of overwhelming suspense, Sorogoyen finds space to tell us about that forgotten old man whose family does not visit him because he has moved to the city and has prospered there and does not need to return to that old field other than to try to capitalize on the inherited lands. As it also shows us a wife who has decided to follow her husband’s dream, perhaps not entirely convinced. It shows us a modern Quixote who fights against electric windmills without a Sancho Panza to accompany him.
The Beasts opens a broad conversation and allows multiple readings of the discourse proposed by the director. In the center are the existential dilemmas of its characters that move all the gears of this wonderful work.