As bestas (2022) starts with a slow-motion shot of Galician farmers wrestling horses to the ground. A foreboding orchestral soundtrack accompanies the image, calling to a dark side of humanity. The violently forceful and controlling.
A title pops up with a statement that sounds reasonable, but doesn’t quite jibe. It adds to the unsettling opening tone, alluding to ideas of freedom and captivity.
To allow them to live freely, the aloitadores immobilise the beasts with their bodies to crop and tag them.
Rodrigo Sorogoyen, a Spanish director from Madrid, directs. The film is set in Galicia, a beautiful, pastural, historically Celtic region in northwest Spain, with the script in Galician, Spanish, and a dash of French.
Outside the region of Galicia, the movie shows with subtitles across Spain — so even more than usual, don’t be put off by what Bong Joon Ho calls the “one inch barrier” of international cinema. You’ll be getting largely the same experience as audiences in its home market, where it has been pulling crowds into movie theatres since November. The cadence and timbre of the Galician language (Gallego) feels like an integral part of the viewing experience.
The movie has done very well at its home box office. It is now just a few hundred thousand dollars away from the lifetime Spanish receipts of Pedro Almodóvar’s masterful Pain and Glory (2019), and should surpass it in the coming days. A very high benchmark to approach, and more impressive when you consider much of the dialogue is not in Spanish.
In February, the movie cleaned house at the Goyas, Spain’s biggest film awards. It won: Best Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound, Best Editing, and Best Screenplay. Phew.
It was not selected as Spain’s submission for the 2023 Academy Awards (the lighter-toned Alcarràs took that spot), so the Goyas triumph shouldn’t be taken as the sign of a weak field. Spanish cinema is undergoing a creative resurgence, and 2022 was a good one.
This is a movie that has captivated and held interest in Spain for months for good reason. The acting is superb, the story gripping, and it masterfully speaks on cultural divides in a way that feels relevant…