Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"The directing duo show a sensibility for wider rural issues that mourns the loss of more than just one person."

The rural landscapes of Galicia in Spain have become more familiar to cinemagoers in recent years thanks to several documentaries emerging from the region onto the festival circuit, including Pela del Álamo's N-VI - Vanishing Roadsides and Lois Patiño's Coast Of Death. This film, shot by Brooklyn-based debut directors Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer again emphasises the isolation of some near-abandoned villages in the region while showing how one such pueblo became the unlikely setting for a crime mystery.

Santoalla (shortened from Santa Eulalia), in a pattern repeated in many rural areas the world over and like much of the Petin municipality in which it is situated, has suffered from a radical depopulation and for years now has had just two houses that are inhabited. One belongs to the Rodriguez family, a clan of farmers, with father Manuel working the land with his wife Jovita and two sons Julio and Carlos. The other is home to Margo Pool and Martin Verfondern, a Dutch counter-culture pair who stumbled on the place while looking for somewhere to settle down and live a self-sufficient 'good life'. This all sounds quite idyllic, until we hear that, one day in 2010, Verfondern disappeared.

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"At first, I was convinced it must have been an accident," says Pool, ominously, near the start of the film, words that when coupled with a video of Verfondern filming himself before getting into an altercation with one of the neighbours, economically shows how tensions set in.

Becker and Mehrer create a strong sense of place, immersing us in the crumbling brickwork, free-range animal life and encroaching countryside of the village, while using news footage of Pool and Verfonden after they moved in during 1997 to show how they attracted local media attention with their can-do attitude and work ethic. The families initially got along fine but five years along the line, relationships started to sour over rights to a nearby lumber forest, profits from which went to Santoalla residents, namely the Rodriguez clan - a monopoly Verfonden decided to contest.

The film benefits from strong interviews with Pool - who is a thoughtful and even-handed soul even in her loss and longing for resolution - and a decent amount of footage from the Rodriguez family to retain balance. Though the middle of the film becomes rather to languorous for its own good, a sudden late injection of pace and incident forcefully restores momentum. While telling a very specific story with care and thoroughness - leaving the extraneous bombastic scoring aside, unnecessary given the story's inate strength - the directing duo show a sensibility for wider rural issues that mourns the loss of more than just one person.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2016
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Documentary about a conflict that arose between Dutch incomers to a small Spanish town and the traditions of the sole remaining residents.

Director: Andrew Becker, Daniel Mehrer

Year: 2016

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2016
DOC NYC 2016

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