The Beasts


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Beasts
"In long, slow takes, Sorogoyen lets the tension build, one situation after another seeming as if it might spill over into violence." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

“These things happen between neighbours,” say the police after Antoine (Denis Ménochet) finds that somebody has urinated on the chairs outside his house. They make it pretty clear that they don’t want to get involved. The problem is that disputes between neighbours can escalate, and under enough pressure, with no outside intervention, petty acts of vandalism can give way to much worse things. Rodrigo Sorogoyen, whose short film Mother was nominated for an Oscar in 2016, ratchets up the tension even when individual incidents are minor. It’s in the latter part of the film, however, after he has changed direction, that things get really interesting.

Antoine was never really going to be welcome in this village. He and his wife Olga (Marina Foïs) are immigrants, as he is constantly reminded when their neighbours refer to him as ‘Frenchy’, drawing on resentment which goes right back to the Napoleonic invasion of 1808. They’re also middle class, and what Sorogoyen does really well is to show us the gulf in understanding which this creates, exploring the pressures of life for the peasant farmers of the area rather than just monstering them Straw Dogs-style. Antoine has a sentimental attachment to the area, steeped in notions of pastoral romance. As such, he refuses to consent to a wind farm being built there. For the peasants, however, life has always been hard and the wind farm would offer a chance for them to escape, to make a fresh start with more money than they could ever dream of acquiring otherwise. It’s easy to understand how Antoine’s obstruction of that makes them feel.

Life in the village has limited their opportunities in a lot of ways. Olga’s presence incites jealousy – the local men see her as forever out of their league. To an extend, however, they seem to blame the locale for their personalities, and for a brutish way of living which is brought to the fore in the film’s opening scene, as three of them wrestle a wild horse to the ground. Events in the latter part of the film suggest that acceptance into the community depends on misery, on an acceptance of the despairing outlook which characterises their existence.

Most of the resentment against Antoine and Olga comes from the brothers Xan (Luis Zahera) and Lorenzo (Diego Anido), but knowing who is responsible doesn’t make the situation any easier to manage. Petty behaviours stay just on the right side of the law; more serious actions are impossible to prove. In long, slow takes, Sorogoyen lets the tension build, one situation after another seeming as if it might spill over into violence. There is an intense physicality about everything the Galicians do, whereas Antoine, despite being a big guy, is much more guarded in his movements, always aware that he’s outnumbered and far from help. A scene in which he and Olga are visited by old friends from the city is telling in its contrast. It is the only time when we hear them laughing loudly, see their bodies relax. Even in that situation, however, the sense of threat never fully recedes.

When we are up on the hillside near Antoine’s house, where he grows his tomatoes, we can see the Galician countryside in all its glory and understand what drew him there. Danger comes from down in the valley, in the muddy fields where men toil all day, and in the thick of the trees. Decay spreads among the houses as it spreads through the soul. Over time, it darkens the palate of the film, the golden light of picture postcards fading for good. In this place, courage and honour are less important than sheer tenacity. Sorogoyen will keep you guessing as to who has the most.

The Beasts screened as part of the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2023
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French couple Antoine and Olga moved to a little village in the Galician countryside some time ago. There they live a quiet life, although their relations with the locals are not as idyllic as they would like them to be. A conflict with their neighbours, the Anta brothers, will see tension rise in the village to the point of no return.
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Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen

Writer: Isabel Peña, Rodrigo Sorogoyen

Starring: Denis Ménochet, Marina Foïs, Luis Zahera, Diego Anido, Marie Colomb, Luisa Merelas, José Manuel Fernández y Blanco, Federico Pérez Rey, Javier Varela, David Menéndez, Xavier Estévez, Gonzalo García, Pepo Suevos, Machi Salgado, Emile Duthu

Year: 2022

Runtime: 137 minutes

Country: Spain, France

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