The Beasts

The Beasts (As bestas) (2022) 

The Beasts (As bestas) first published by Little White Lies

The Beasts (As bestas) opens with Xan Anta (Luis Zahera) and his younger brother Lorenzo (Diego Anido) wrestling to get control of a wild horse. The scene, for all its muscular violence, is shot in close-up, which makes the struggle look peculiarly intimate, with the men’s grip on the beast’s neck a tough yet also tender embrace. 

This opening will later find its mirror when we see the Anta brothers treat a human character similarly. Indeed Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s feature is structured around symmetries and recurrences, highlighting not just the nuanced comparisons and contrasts in the story (co-written with Isabel Peña), but also the cycles of the seasons and rhymes of nature in this remote part of Galicia.

The Beasts

Slow-witted (from a childhood accident with a horse), cruel Lorenzo and his even meaner brother live in abject poverty on a cattle farm with their mother (Luisa Merelas), and engage in an escalating feud with the only other residents of this otherwise abandoned ghost town. Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and Olga Denis (Marina Foïs) moved here two years ago from France, hoping for a life closer to nature – and as they introduce organic methods of farming, and set about slowly restoring some of the empty houses, this couple are distinguished from their neighbours by their provenance, their intellect, their worldliness, and their refusal to vote for a local wind turbine scheme that they believe will ruin the ambiance while benefitting only foreign corporations.

Besides his xenophobia, and a dislike for Antoine that seems rooted as much in envy as animosity, Xan imagines that the turbines will bring a life-changing windfall – and so begins an increasingly vicious campaign against the couple next door, threatening not just their livelihood, but their very lives. “We’ll both do what we have to do,” Xan tells Antoine, referring to himself and his brother in the register of an oater. Sure enough, this is a clash of the Titans (Titan also being the name of Antoine’s dog). Though a hulking giant (who mock-roars at his wife like a monster at the local river), Antoine is armed only with a digicam (for gathering evidence), while Lorenzo carries a rifle, and Xan drawls and spits with the drunken menace of Bob Ewell in Robert Mulligan’s To Kill A Mockingbird (1962).

The Beasts

Yet even as The Beasts flirts with genre, it also stays largely true to the real-life case from which it is drawn, so that the big three-cornered duel that would be the climax of a western comes here at the half-way point, upsetting the established pace and letting the rest of the film abandon masculine bluster to focus on a quieter female stoicism. Olga may at first have been more reluctant than her husband to leave French civilisation, their friends, and even their daughter (Marie Colomb) behind, but in this harsh, hostile environment, where “the hill people are simple, which is good and bad”, Foïs’ recentred character slowly finds her own rhythm, and learns to tame the beasts.

strap: Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s real-life saga gives an oater-like feud of simmering masculine violence a feminine tailspin.

Anton Bitel