Director Julio Medem's debut film is a massive undertaking, tracing a family feud, along with its attendant socio-political history and a touch of incest on the side, through three generations of two families.

The action begins in 1875, in the trenches of Biscay. Manuel (Carmelo Gomez) is a rookie soldier, fresh from a Basque farm on the edge of the woods. When his neighbour, army sergeant Carmelo (Karra Elejade), hears that he has joined the batallion, he befriends him, desperate for news of his newborn child. Manuel isn't cut out for battle, however, and before long his cowardice has brought about tragic consequences that will plunge his family into decades of dispute.

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Some 30 years on and the men's sons - played by the same actors, which can prove a tad confusing - are continuing their feud in the form of log cutting contests, desperate to become top dog. Throw in a love child, a soupsant of incest and a third generation of children, and there should be plenty of points to be made. Medem, however, shies away from revealing what the characters are really thinking, relying on a look here, a furtive argument there, all of which is far from satisfactory.

Where, in all this, you may ask, do the cows come in? Well, just as a river ran through Robert Redford's tale of growing up, so a cow ambles through Medem's offering as a pastoral reminder that nothing much changes down on the farm. In fact, you sense that you could watch this family until the cows come home without gaining much from the experience.

That Medem is skilful behind a camera is not in doubt. He makes extensive use of magic realism to dislocate the viewer and is successful to a point. His portrayal of the inhumanity of the civil war being visited upon this small community is also vivid and shows the stark contrast between those who are fighting a war and those who try to live through it.

He fails as often as he succeeds. With so many loose ends, you could make a pretty rag rug. The performances are fine, but the story doesn't deliver.

You can only milk an idea for so long.

Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2002
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Family feud traced down three generations.
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Director: Julio Medem

Writer: Michael Gaztambide, Julio Medem

Starring: Emma Suarez, Carmelo Gomez, Ana Torrent, Txemo Blasco, Karra Elejalde, Clara Badiola, Kandido Uranga, Pilar Bardem, Miguel Ángel García, Ana Sanchez

Year: 1992

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Spain


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