From the 100-second tracking shot to building pulse music that opens “The Realm” to the slug-fest finale of “May God Save Us,” Oscar-nominated Rodrigo Sorogoyen (“Mother”) has filmed some of the most exhilarating shots in recent Spanish cinema.
His status as a filmmaker consolidated by a series, Movistar Plus’ “Riot Police,” “The Beasts” (“As Bestas”), which played in Cannes Premiere, rates as one of, if not the most awaited Spanish movie of 2022.
From a brief synopsis, it might look like a return to one of Sorogoyen’s central obsessions: Violence. But that is most likely a half truth. Based on real-life events, “The Beasts,” written by Sorogoyen and co-scribe Isabel Peña, follows a married couple, Vincent and Olga, (Denis Menochet and Marina Fois) who have settled in a small village in Galicia, in Spain’s verdant North-West. They grow vegetables and rehabilitate abandoned cottages.
Disrupting established village power structures, however, their presence is resented, especially by brothers Xan and Lorenzo. When the couple refuses to endorse a wind farm which would mean a windfall for the villagers, tensions rise to a point of no return.
Sorogoyen’s supposed works about violence are all really rather different propositions, however. 2016’s “May God Save Us” turned on men’s inability to control their violence, “Riot Police” on their battle to live up to society’s expectations of what it means to be a man. In “The Beasts,” the focus shifts yet again – to how men and in string contrast, women may navigate conflict.
Sold by Latido Films, “The Beasts” is produced out of Spain by Ibon Cormenzana, Ignasi Estapé y Sandra Tapia at Arcadia and Sorogoyen and Eduardo Villanueva at Caballo Films and, from France, by Thomas Pibarot, Jean Labadie and Anne-Laure Labadie at Le Pacte.
Variety grabbed Sorogoyen for a few minutes at Cannes to ask what audiences could anticipate from such an anticipated film. It talked to him again just before September’s San Sebastian Festival, by which time “The Beasts” had bowed in France, distributed by the pact, grossing a robust 310,000 admissions off an eight-week run through Sept. 13.
Many people might say that in “The Beasts” you return to the theme of violence. But the film seems part of a far larger resonant subject: How people negotiate confrontation….
I’m very glad you say that and think like me and Isabel Peña! That’s one of the central themes of the film and I think it becomes pretty clear in later stretches. It would be very boring if Isabel and I always made the same film.
Your cinema often often takes genre, or even sub-genres, and bends or evolves them to new effect, as in “May God Save Us,” a procedural which becomes a revenge thriller. Could “As Bestas” be the Western you said you were writing a couple of years back?
Yes, it begins like a Western and then evolves. But it begins like a Western, or a Western sub-genre: The outsider who takes on locals who take issue with his way of being and thinking. There’s a bar, which is like the saloon in a Western town, which is where the worst elements hang out.
And does that work through to shot set-ups?
Yes, when it came to filming these early scenes, I decided to emphasise this Western feel, shooting with a camera on a tripod or with slow travelling shots, and landscape panoramic, an almost archaic way of shooting which was very different from what I’ve done to date. I’m fascinated by sub-genres. This is the time to subvert genres. Each time I see a film where a director tries to do that, they’ve got my vote….
In its very title, “As Bestas” recalls Galicia’s Rapa das Bestas fiesta in Salbucedo, where locals grapple wild horse to cut their manes and brand them. I believe the film begins with scenes inspired by the event. But is this is some way an allegory – subjugation by violence to establish authority?
I wouldn’t like to reduce it to a phrase. But the Rapa das Bestas has an extraordinary confluence of themes, beauty in its aesthetics and also domination via violence. The fiesta is beneficial for the horses, however. They’re deloused and then can run wild again.
After more than half the film, “The Beasts” adopts Olga’s point of view. It’s a significant rupture, also in style….
I think it’s what makes the film special. The aesthetics in the first part of the film were those of a classic Western. In the second part, I get rid of the tripods. Everything’s shot with a SteadyCam, which brings the modulating lightness of touch and liberty of a feminine point of view as we follow Olga, compared to the solidity, roughness and bestiality of a male viewpoint. But I don’t think that many people will note the use of SteadyCam, which is what I wanted. The setting’s the same, the characters. But they’ll sense that something is strange, different, however, in the film language, even if they don’t know exactly what it is….That’s at least what I was aiming for.
Does your success in France encourage you to think about making more films on a European scale, to increase your project in Europe?
I’d love that to happen. I feel slightly embarrassed even thinking about it! We’ve been lucky enough to have a good reception in France, the birthplace of cinema. I’m more fluent in French than English. I love Ella kids of films but I’ve grown up on European cinema. My big contemporary references are European. I’d love that projection nit just because f what it signifies but also because of he facilities that one can have making films on a European level. I think it would be easier for me to tell the stories that I want to tell.