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Spain released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: LANGUAGES: Spanish ( Dolby Digital 5.1 ), English ( Subtitles ), French ( Subtitles ), Spanish ( Subtitles ), WIDESCREEN (1.66:1), SPECIAL FEATURES: Filmographies, Interactive Menu, Photo Gallery, Scene Access, Trailer(s), SYNOPSIS: In Basque country, feuds, governments, and wars come and go, while cows placidly observe the strange behaviors of the humans who care for them. In 1875, during a massacre inspired by an out-of-control family feud, a farmer and his friend find themselves in a ditch together. One of them dies, and the other survives by playing possum using his friend's blood as a disguise. As the film flashes forward in time, the man is now a grandfather who amuses himself by painting the tranquil gaze of cows over and over again, while he observes that his son is having an affair with his dead friend's granddaughter. Finally, during the Civil War in 1936, violence again mars the life of the family, as the illegitimate son of the earlier affair attempts to make headway with his life. SCREENED/AWARDED AT: Cinema Writers Circle Awards, Spain, Goya Awards, Montreal World Film Festival, ...Cows ( Vacas )
With Vacas, his first feature, the Basque director Julio Medem set out all the elements of his audacious and idiosyncratic approach to filmmaking: intricate, circular plots; richly sensual imagery and highly stylised camerawork; a deft interweaving of fantasy and reality; and a thoroughly subversive attitude to Spanish tradition and folklore. Vacas takes a staple Spanish genre--the epic historical melodrama with all its bombast and macho posturing--and kicks the stuffing out of it while pelting it with cowpats.
The action unrolls between two Spanish civil wars--the Second Carlist War of 1874-5, and the rather better-known conflict that started in 1936. An incident in the first of these sets up a feud between two farming families in a Basque valley, and the story leapfrogs down the decades taking in star-crossed lovers, log-chopping contests (a staple Basque competitive sport, it seems), mutilation, madness, incest, photography and any number of cows, through whose placidly bemused gaze we view a good deal of the action.
Though Medem is dealing with all the solemn Hemingway-esque elements of romantic Spanishry--honour, blood and death--his approach is too playful to admit any real sense of tragedy. Much of the time the tone is closer to myth, and there's more than a touch of magic realism: axes fly miles through the air, and a tree in the woods can apparently eat people alive. In the end, of course, love triumphs over all. Medem's films have since gained greatly in sophistication and technique, but there's exuberance about this debut work that's irresistible.
On the DVD: Vacas on disc has trailers for all five of Medem's features to date; filmographies for Medem and his two lead actors, Emma Suárez and Carmelo Gómez; and useful written notes on the movie by film historian Robert Stone. The transfer's clean and clear, doing justice to Carles Gusi's rich photography, with good sound and in the original ratio. --Philip Kemp --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I first discovered Medem's work in The Red Squirrel. I didn't think he could possibly better that surreal gem but came very close to eating my words when I finally got round to seeing Vacas. What appears to be cosy pastoral drama about two intertwined families is so much more than it initially seems.
Spanning over 60 years from the Carlist Wars to the Spanish Civil War this film is a dreamy study of major events in spanish history and how they disrupt the interminable cycle of rural life.
This repetition of growth, birth and death is cleverly portrayed through use of the same actors playing the successive generations. This serves to make the characters shifting allegiances all the more poignant.
Whatever happens, you can be sure it all looks the same to the cows who are the only truly objective witnesses to the complex intricacies and social upheaval that surround this small corner of Spain.
There is a sustained slightly magical atmosphere which makes much of the story seem somewhat dreamlike but occasionally the jagged edges of a grim reality force their way into this deceptive idyll.
This is totally gorgeous film making with real heart and I urge you to see it.
My overwhelming recollection, after, is of over-egged children egging on two rival woodcutters in competition. And with cows looking on. There may have been strong hints at political and humanist issues but these were trodden underfoot by the almost Tatti-like visual comedy. Then, it would suddenly get serious with troops and fighting and so on.
I'm being quite generous with my three stars as despite all this, it was refreshingly different and had its quirky - and appealing moments.
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