The French couple Antoine and Olga are making their dream come true, now that daughter Maria has left home: to live as an organic farmer in a mountain village in the Spanish region of Galicia, where only the elderly and the underprivileged were left behind. The idealistic bully Antoine dreams of revitalizing the entire village, restoring abandoned slums on his own. The couple is learning Spanish, making friends – but not everyone is happy about their arrival. The neighbors, brothers Xan and Loren, are hostile and resentful.
This is already apparent in the blistering first scene, where the wiry Xan in the village pub sets off harassing anti-French tirades against lobbes Antoine. It turns out that it is not just xenophobia of those left behind: Antoine resists the arrival of the windmills from which the brothers hope to earn money to buy a taxi in the valley. They want to get out of the poverty that Antoine finds so picturesque.
This modern social conflict – the Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen was inspired by a true story – provides fuel for a dark thriller that smolders and heats to its fatal discharge. This is followed by a long epilogue, about mourning, revenge and justice. Stylistically, Sorogoyen was inspired by westerns: this is about stubborn men in a raw nature who get stuck in an insoluble, apparently principled conflict. The brothers are the villains, they keep taking new steps on the escalation ladder. They piss all over the couple’s chairs. Beat a mirror off the car. Put old batteries in the well so that Antoine has to continue his tomato harvest.
Antoine reacts like a modern, reasonable citizen. He secretly films the brothers to build a file against them, because the local police pick up and keep wet. But things only escalate and after a late night encounter Olga knows: had Antoine been there alone, the brothers would have killed him. Is it worth it, she wonders.
late anyway Las Bestias Don’t reduce yourself to a template thriller about civilized people besieged by inbred heads. Somewhere on two-thirds the scales fall from your eyes when Antoine forces the two brothers into a conversation in the village pub. You see the door open for a moment at his assailants – until Antoine slams it shut again. His resentment is understandable after all that has happened, but stands in the way of compromise.
And that’s the point of Las Bestias: French may clash with Spanish here, city with village, cosmopolitan with hillbilly, but ultimately this is all about testosterone, war logic. Antoine can’t listen either, add water to the wine, let go of his saintly right. Nobody wants to know about deviating.
Las Bestias can be taken as a critique of the principled, stand your groundlogic that westerns instill in us. There is always a solution, Olga tells Antoine. But it’s all or nothing for him too, so everything moves in fatalistic slow motion towards violence. And then follows a grim epilogue of mourning and retribution where the women left behind get to foot the bill. As usual.
A version of this article also appeared in the October 19, 2022 newspaper