A former soldier seeks redemption in a very different way in this Spanish dark comedy from writer-director Ana Murugarren.
The year is 1939 and it is nearing the end of the Spanish Civil War. The Nationalist party have been wreaking havoc, confronting those accused of being Republican and having them killed. However, one group have made it clear that there is to be no killings of women or children under the age of 16. During a raid of a schoolteacher, soldier Rogelio Cerón finds himself staring into the eyes of the teacher’s ten-year old son. It is there that Rogelio soon feels something a bit different. When the group are invited to stay in the home of Nationalist hero Benito Muro, which is located near the schoolteacher’s home, Rogelio finds himself confronting the son again on the first night as the kid grows a fig tree where his father is buried.
Out of remorse, Rogelio soon finds himself making the decision to take care of the fig tree. This comes as a shock to his fellow soldiers as they constantly question his decision. The only ones who support him as Ermo, a strange fellow soldier who found himself in a remorseful situation as well; and Cipriana, Benito’s outspoken wife who despises the war. As the young boy agrees to stay in a seminary, it is with the condition that Rogelio continues to serve as the tree’s caregiver and protector. However, as the years pass, some of the former guard are still taking offense and hatch a plan to drive Rogelio out of the area.
Now this is quite an interesting concept. A soldier seeks redemption for his past actions by taking care of a tree planted by the son of one of his victims over the course of a decade. Ana Murugarren takes the harsh realities of the Spanish Civil War and melds them with some humorous beats but add that sense of redemption throughout the course of ten years in the eyes of our protagonist Rogelio. The ex-soldier’s radical transformation is seen throughout the course of the film going from a loyal Nationalist soldier to a Gandalf-looking protector of the fig tree by the film’s conclusion.
Karra Elejalde delivers a wonderful performance as Rogelio. The film opens quite dark with him and his soldiers confronting an accused Republican schoolteacher. It is clear that he is loyal through his evasive actions, even going as far as wanting to kill the boy who eventually becomes the catalyst for him transformation. It is only when he sees him a second time that Rogelio has both a sense of fear and in retrospect, guilt, that he decides to live out in the field where the boy plants the fig tree, much to the chagrin of his fellow soldiers. Notably Pedro Alberto, played by Mikel Losada, who is an arrogant scumbag who is perhaps the most loyal to the party even when the times have truly changed.
The comic relief comes at times from Carlos Areces’ Ermo, a bumbling ex-soldier who forms a respectful bond with Rogelio when the film sees fit. Meanwhile, Pepa Aniorte’s Cipriana finds respect in Rogelio when she sees his plan to care for the fig tree. She sees this as a way to find someone who is like her, one who is with the times and disapproves of the Nationalist party’s actions during the war. Outspoken, she is confronted by her husband’s “friends” in one pivotal scene before Rogelio’s story kicks into high gear. The only letdown of sorts is the finale because it becomes apparent what is to happen doesn’t happen as expected and goes a totally different route. While it may sound interesting, it is the execution of the final few minutes that just become somewhat of a disappointment. That is, until the mid-credits sequence finally brings some closure to the story.
The Bastards’ Fig Tree is a pretty good dramatic and comedic look at redemption with a powerful performance by Karra Elejalde. However, the final few minutes are a bit disappointing but the mid-credit scene saves the film overall.
WFG RATING: B
Dark Star Pictures presents a Blogmedia production with the participation of Elkargi SGR, EITB, Rural Kutxa, and Triodos Bank with the support of Eusko Jaularitza, and the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport. Director: Ana Murugarren. Producer: Joaquin Trincado. Writer: Ana Murugarren. Cinematography: Josu Inchaustegui. Editing: Ana Murugarren.
Cast: Karra Elejalde, Pepa Aniorte, Carlos Arecas, Mikel Losada, Andres Herrera, Jordi Sanchez, Marcos Balganon Santamaria, Juanlu Escudero, Jose Luis Esteban, Ramon Barea, Ylenia Baglietto, David Pinilla.
The film is currently playing in select theaters and will be available on Digital on June 4 from Dark Star Pictures.