Thursday, February 1, 2018

VACAS (1992) (Olive Blu-ray Review)

VACAS (1992)
Label: Olive Films
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 96 Minutes 
Audio: Spanish DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Julio Medem
Cast: Ana Torrent, Carmelo Gomez, Emma Suárez, Karra Elejalde

This mythically cryptic Spanish multi-family drama begins in the year 1875 during the Third Carlist War, a commanding soldier named Carmelo Mendiluze (Kandido Uranga)is excited to hear that his neighbor Manuel Iriguíbel (Carmelo Gómez, The Red Squirrel) has been enlisted and arrived on the front lines, hoping to glean news of his son's birth back home while trying to teach the young man how to fire a gun in the heat of the battle. Manuel is a bit of a coward and doesn't do so well, while trying to show the clearly shaken young man how to aim and fire Carmelo is shot in the neck, it's a mortal wound, and as he drops to the ground with the red red groovy flowing from his neck, Manuel immediately smears his neighbor's blood onto his own face and pretends to be dead on the ground. In the aftermath he is stripped naked and thrown onto a horse drawn cart with the other "corpses", but not before the cart runs over his leg, the wooden wheel doing permanent damage to his knee. He eventually pulls himself free from the entangled pile bodies and falls off the back of the cart, the only witness to his cowardice is a lonely cow on the path. This sets up a family feud between the two families which will go onto span over fifty years, that of the Mendiluze and the Iriguibel families back in the rural farmland of Spain. After his cowardly escape the film takes up thirty years later in 1905 with Carmelo as an old man obsessed by painting images of ever-present cows which are never far out of frame in this movie, he's also obsessed with throwing dead-animal carcasses down a hollowed out stump hole in the woods. 

This is a very strange film, an arthouse slice of family-fueding that doesn't seem overly concerned with going into any depth about the motivations of the families and the members thereof. The two main actors play several characters over multiple generations of the same family which is at once a nice through line and also a bit confusing, it took me several watches to take it all in and see the layout. In the second story set in 1905 the two actors play the sons of their previous characters, the families still hold a strong animosity for one another, the two young men engage in a time-honored log-cutting competition, with Ignacio emerging the victor, not only wining national fame but also engaging in a secret affair with Juan's sister Cristina (Emma Suarez, The Red Squirrel), resulting in an illegitimate child named Peru.  

The final story involves Peru (played by Carmelo Gómez in his third role!) returning to Spain in 1936 after having been whisked away to America by his mother and Juan, returning as a photo journalist working for an American paper covering the Spanish Civil War. Returning to his home he is reunited with his half-sister and childhood crush Cristina (that's right, half sister), and the film doesn't stop there with it's incestuous overtones, her own brother lusted after her in the earlier segment. The movie is loaded with visceral imagery, from the opening scenes of the brutality and tragedy of war, to the final scene of the same, the cyclical nature of war once again returns, in between we have the log-cutting scenes which seemed to loom on possible foot dismemberment to the eerie image of a scarecrow baring a scythe, this is just a visually engaging movie, and the cows are like witnesses to the drama, even appearing in a rather forceful sex scene out in the woods.  

When discussing this film I find myself using the word cryptic a lot, and it's totally appropriate, director Mendel summons up an impressive amount of tense atmosphere that is both menacing and filled with unease for a debut film, the vibe is a strange one, it doesn't navigate this multi-generational  drama with any sort of depth, it's all surface viewing, but I found it enthralling, I was thoroughly engrossed by the gorgeous rural setting, the weird cryptic strangeness and the slowly unfolding family drama of it all. 

Audio/Video: Vacas (1992) arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films in 1080p HD framed in 1.78:1 widescreen and looks great, the rural settings are gorgeously photographed and look wonderful in HD, it's not super crisp and the fine detail is not overwhelming but it looks authentic without any artificial enhancement. The Spanish language DTS-HD MA audio sounds great, the immersive and sometimes overpowering score from Alberto Iglesias (The Red Squirrel) perfectly complimenting the powerful cinematography. Optonal English subtitles are provided. . 

Unfortunately, like Olive's release of The Red Squirrel on Blu-ray this is a barebones with no extras. This single-disc release comes housed in standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, the disc itself features the same illustration of a cow that's on the cover. 

This was director Julio Medem's first film, it's quite an undertaking, a sprawling thirty year family feud drama shot with an mythic but detached arthouse eye - which might deter the enjoyment of some but like I said, I found it utterly fascinating. I loved Julio Medem's second feature The Red Squirrel (1993) but this one is a home run for me, even more than before I am keen to explore Medem's later films. Olive Films have just released Medem's The Red Squirrel and Tierra (1996) on Blu-ray this month, check 'em out 

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