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Your Next Life

Enjoyably intense rural murder drama-cum-romancer set in remote northern Spain is superior anthropology. First-class perfs enhance study of a disappearing way of life. Vet helmer Manuel Gutierrez Aragon and fast-rising Spanish thesp Luis Tosar could generate select offshore interest, with fest afterlife guaranteed.

Cast:
With: Juan Diego, Luis Tosar, Marta Etura, Clara Lago, Celso Bugallo.

An enjoyably intense rural murder drama-cum-romancer set in the remote Valle de Pas in northern Spain, “Your Next Life” is superior anthropology and, for its first hour, superior cinema, too. First-class perfs, sore-eyes scenery and solid production values all enhance this incidental study of a disappearing way of life, but its morphing halfway into a litany of tired thriller motifs prevents pic from fulfilling its potential. However, veteran helmer Manuel Gutierrez Aragon’s heavy-duty reputation and the presence of fast-rising Spanish thesp Luis Tosar (“Take My Eyes”) could generate select offshore interest, with fest afterlife guaranteed.

First half-hour is fascinating as a study of the 200-year-old lifestyle which still prevails in this remote region, birthplace of director Gutierrez Aragon. Widowed hill farmer Gildo (Juan Diego) is the proud owner of a cow (name: Vanessa) which strays onto the land of rival farmer, brutish Severo (Celso Bugallo). A bizarre misunderstanding over an ancient farming law ends with Severo kidnapping Gildo’s older daughter, Val (Marta Etura), who’s taken over the running of the family following her mother’s death.

Gildo comes looking for his daughter, and in the ensuing struggle, Severo is killed. Gildo’s younger daughter, Genia (Clara Lago), a student and wannabe belly dancer, spends much of pic unaware of the truth.

Severo’s hairdresser son, Rai (Tosar), returns to the area to investigate his father’s death. Gildo initially encourages Val to see him and find out how much he knows. But when Rai and Val, following an uneasy seduction, superbly played by Etura, start falling for one another — and when Val sees that a different life is possible other than the overwork she believes killed her mother — Gildo is suddenly less keen.

When Rai, in a contrived plot maneuver, mysteriously disappears — and returns equally mysteriously — the script abandons its interest in the specifics of life in this remarkable region. It becomes little more than a standard cat-and-mouse chase, albeit in stunning surroundings: Val after Rai, Rai after Gildo, the cops after Rai. Pic could easily be trimmed by about 20 minutes without structural damage.

The relentless austerity of people’s lives in this isolated valley is unflinchingly repped. Overworked, without electricity and living in cabins, they are victims of both the weather and of economic circumstances; their only real currency is milk. Silence is golden, but the high price they pay for their beliefs is loneliness. Pic captures a way of life before it vanishes altogether, giving the film anthropological value.

Diego has spent a lifetime playing tough guys. Here he turns in a highly charged perf as the churlish Gildo. Short on mental agility and emotionally restricted, Gildo moulds his life around the simple phrases he repeats like mantras, such as: “What is not spoken about disappears.”

As elder daughter Val, Etura explores a range of moods and consolidates a rapidly-developing reputation. Tosar gives the terminally passive Rai his best shot, but the role lacks the substance of his recent appearances. The only real problem dramatically is Genia who, apart from being an implausibly sophisticated product of valley life, lacks focus and purpose.

Xavier Capellas’ pretty, melodic score has traces of the Celtic music of northern Spain. D.p. Gonzalo Berridi’s lensing is equally striking whether sweeping across the rich greens of the mountain scenery or investigating the claustrophobic interiors of a mountainside cabin.

Your Next Life

Spain

Production: An Alta Classics release of a Tornasol Films, Continental Producciones, Television de Galicia production, in association with TVE, Canal Plus. (International sales: Latido Films, Madrid.) Produced by Gerardo Herrero, Pancho Casal. Directed by Manuel Gutierrez Aragon. Screenplay, Gutierrez Aragon, Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde.

Crew: Camera (color), Gonzalo Berridi; editor, Jose Salcedo; music, Xavier Capellas; art director, Felix Murcia; sound (Dolby Digital), Mark van der Willigen. Reviewed at Cine Princesa, Madrid, Jan. 21, 2004 (In Berlin Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 111 MIN.

With: With: Juan Diego, Luis Tosar, Marta Etura, Clara Lago, Celso Bugallo.

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