Love the Magician, 1986. While Blood Wedding, the first dance film in what would evolve to be Carlos Saura’s flamenco trilogy collaboration with choreographer Antonio Gades, distilled the art of flamenco to the essential movement of bodies and expression of the human voice, and the subsequent installment, Carmen examined the integral, often interpenetrating relationship between reality and performance (albeit, within the structure of a fictional metafilm), the final chapter of the trilogy, Love, the Magician, integrates dance with the imaginative possibilities of formal construction in order to illustrate its ingraining into the performance of cultural ritual. The incongruous, oddly clinical, opening sequence establishes the seemingly isolated, self-encapsulated aesthetic that defines the film, as the camera tracks the shot of a large mechanical door that is slowly closing, before panning overhead to the curious sight of a skeletal soundstage – scaffolding, intricate networks of soaring access ladders and intersecting gantries, suspended curtains, translucent partitions, and overhead lighting – before descending to the image of a group of children playing in a rustic village. The sense of enclosure invariably proves to be a reflection of the film’s folkloric tale of unrequited love, star-crossed destiny, and mystical haunting as well. The film chronicles the intertwined fates of Carmelo (Gades), his beloved Candela (Cristina Hoyos), and her husband José (Juan Antonio Jiménez), who, as the gypsy tale begins, somberly looks on as the fathers of young Candela and José agree on their children’s arranged marriage. Years later, Candela and José fulfill their family’s pact, to the resigned melancholy of Carmelo and Lucía (Laura del Sol) a free spirit who still harbors feelings for the rakish José. Relegated to a life of deception and betrayal, the couple’s life together is soon tragically cut short when José, having gone out in the evening to meet Lucía, is stabbed to death during an altercation. Haunted by her unresolved relationship with her unfaithful husband, Candela becomes bewitched by his ghost, unable to reconcile with her grief until the ever-devoted Carmelo returns to the village to redeem his beloved from her emotional captivity in the realm of the dead. In its pervasive sense of hermeticism and formal staging, Love, the Magician may be seen as a logical precursor to The Seventh Day (a film that, perhaps not surprisingly, features flamenco songs in its soundtrack) – a cultural immersion into the profound intimacy and dysfunctionality of a close-knit community (in this case, a gypsy village) that also exposes its underlying inbred cruelty. Inevitably, it is this irrepressible sense of spiritual entrapment borne of entrenched insularity that is symbolized by Candela’s somnambulistic haunting – an unreconciled struggle to wrest free from the persistence of constructed destiny towards the instinctual trajectory of the human soul.
The Seventh Day, 2004. On an isolated pueblo in the heart of the Spanish countryside, the seemingly familiar story of fickle young love unravels to incomprehensible tragedy when the spurned lover, Luciana Fuentes, expresses a vengeful wish on her seducer in the presence of her fragmented, devoted brother Jerónimo who, in turn, executes his sister’s wish, resulting in the young man’s cold and brutal murder in an open field. Despite Jerónimo’s capture and 30-year prison sentence, the shame on the Fuentes family still proves to be terrible burden as the townspeople continue to treat the siblings with open contempt and derision, culminating one day in a suspicious fire that engulfs the family home and escalates the deeply entrenched family feud. Publicly humiliated, forcibly driven out of town, and struggling with Luciana’s delusional obsession over her broken engagement, the family’s harbored animosity festers with each passing year, awaiting Jerónimo’s release and pondering the inevitable day of reckoning against the community that had turned its back against them. From Isabel’s retrospective opening monologue to the intimately captured innocence of the children’s world, Carlos Saura evokes the provocative and trenchant social observation and disquieting mystery of his seminal film, Cría Cuervos while retaining the musicality and immersive passion of his later, cultural expositions to create a haunting and indelible work. Through the introduction of the slow-witted, drug-addicted witness – the child of an incestuous relationship – Saura illustrates an intrinsic parallel to the town’s oppressive isolation and complicity that contributed to the perpetuation of the communal tragedy. Based on a true incident in 1992, the film is a thoughtful, potent, and incisive examination on the insidious nature of collective exclusion, intolerance, implicit collusion, systematic demoralization, and consuming vengeance.
Ay Carmela!, 1990. A prevailing thread that continues to weave through Carlos Saura’s aesthetically fluid, articulate, and refreshingly (re)inventive cinema is in his instinctual acuity to capture society’s moral landscape – invariably transfiguring and adapting conventional film form in unexpected, often groundbreaking ways that, in their bracing novelty, also becomes a refracted, secondary reflection of their culturally rooted contemporaneity. It is within this creative aesthetic of oblique, yet incisive social observation that Saura’s audacious, deceptively whimsical, and excoriating transformation of civil war as grotesque farce in Ay, Carmela! seems especially prescient in its depiction of human frailty, cultural rupture, and the absurdity of war. Adapted from the play by Spanish dramatist, José Sanchís Sinisterra, the film chronicles a few fateful days in the lives of traveling performers (a malleable profession that is also explored in Theo Angelopoulos’ The Travelling Players, Carmela (Carmen Maura) and Paulino (Andrés Pajares) who, along with their psychologically traumatized mute apprentice Gustavete (Gabino Diego), perform their bawdy, nostalgically sentimental, and overtly propagandist variety show before a motley (and implicitly grassroots) cadre of partisan fighters along Republican strongholds on the Aragonese front. Seeking to escape the austerity and chaos of life in the front lines, the trio impulsively decides to hit the road and take their act to Valencia – a flight to seemingly greener pastures that is soon derailed when the night obscured and sleep deprived performers awaken the next morning to the sight of Nationalist soldiers who immediately detain them and confiscate their incendiary collection of theatrical props deemed sympathetic to the Republican cause. Resigned to a life in the detention camp as prisoners of war, the performers soon find their collective fate hinging with the favor of a theater director turned Fascist officer, Lt. Ripamonte (Maurizio De Razza) who enlists them to organize a variety show program that will serve as a fitting demonstration of Nationalist ideals and sovereignty. Prefiguring Emir Kusturica’s idiosyncratically irreverent film on the breakup of Yugoslavia, Underground, Ay, Carmela! delicately – and eloquently – straddles the precarious, seemingly intransectable bounds between comedy and tragedy, mockery and pathos in its wry, yet poignant depiction of the trauma of national rupture as a darkly comic burlesque. At the root of Saura’s sobering, cautionary satire is the sense of reckless, instinctual self-preservation, egoism, and ideological indifference embodied by the all-too-obliging Paulino – an allegorical cultural complacency that has not only led to a self-inflicted fractured nation, but also enabled the institution of a repressive regime under the guise of maintaining order and upholding moral values (note the similar social criticism that characterizes Ritwik Ghatak’s impassioned expositions on the moral culpability of the Bengali people for the tragedy of the Partition). It is the unrealized toll of resigned complicity and spiritual inertia that is inevitably reflected in the jarring tonal shift of the film’s indelible and haunting denouement – the breaking of silence that paradoxically condemns and liberates the performers, transforming their roles from impotent, peripheral witnesses to the integral moral conscience of a rended and foundering people.
The Stilts, 1984. A somber, despondent, middle-aged university professor and respected playwright named Ángel (Fernando Fernán Gómez) returns to a large, empty country cottage that has been covered and secured for the season, perhaps the first time that he has returned since the untimely death of his wife and children. Restless in his sleep and haunted by the memories of his lost family, Ángel impulsive decides to burn his manuscripts (whose authorship undoubtedly contributed to his estrangement from his family, even in life) – a figurative act of self-erasure that soon escalates to a suicide attempt. Locking himself in the propane tank storage room at the base of the house and opening the valves of all the cylinders, Ángel prepares to light the fatal match as the room fills with gas when he is caught in the act by his new neighbor, a school teacher named Teresa (Laura del Sol) who has coincidentally stopped by to introduce herself and borrow a bottle of wine. Inviting him over to meet her husband, Alberto (Antonio Banderas), an artist and aspiring actor from a traveling performance art troupe called The Stilts (named after their idiosyncratic use of prop stilts in their performances) who stage commissioned, harlequin, experimental street plays to entertain the public, Ángel is immediately captivated by the genial and attentive Teresa, drawn together by the shared intimacy of her respectful silence over his suicide attempt, and Antonio’s sincere entreaties to author a script for the troupe for an upcoming children’s engagement at a local park. Gradually emerging from his loneliness by a renewed sense of purpose, and deeply touched by their struggling, but seemingly idyllic, bohemian existence, Ángel begins to insinuate himself into the couple’s life in an attempt to win Teresa’s heart, a seemingly impossible, quixotic quest that drives him further into the darkness of his despair. Revisiting the themes of emotional displacement and projected desire of his earlier films, Peppermint Frappé and Carmen, and evoking the generational disconnection and rootlessness of Deprisa, Deprisa, the film is a dreamlike and surreal, yet pensive, articulate, and understatedly resonant portrait of loss, grief, and healing. Juxtaposing the stilt performers’ whimsical, absurdist fantasies with the moribund immediacy of Ángel’s melancholy and isolation, the film becomes a lucid parable for the human imperative to reconnect with its own collective soul in the wake of profound tragedy – a metaphoric shedding of aloof and distancing escapist stilts that inevitably becomes a symbol for Ángel’s own figurative return to the process of life on earth – a spiritual re-engagement with the travails and rapture of an imperfect, but redemptive but existence.
Carmen, 1983. In an early episode in Carmen – Carlos Saura’s second dance film with renowned flamenco artist Antonio Gades (in what would inevitably prove to be the second film of their collaborative Flamenco trilogy – a group of musicians rehearse at a large, open dance studio within earshot of the choreographer, Antonio (Gades) as he struggles to find the proper tempo suitable to adapting the Seguedilla from Bizet’s opera for a flamenco performance. Reinterpreting the operatic work from a waltzy, 3/4 timed vocal piece to a sprightly, improvisational bulería, the musicians perform their rendition to the receptive Antonio who, along with his studio partner – and perhaps, erstwhile paramour – Cristina (Cristina Hoyos), begin to re-envision Carmen, not as a French composer’s projection of the fiery gypsy seductress – and more broadly, a foreigner’s stereotypical notions of Spanish culture – but rather, as an indigenous adaptation of Prosper Mérimée’s novel, disconnected from the now iconic flourishes of Bizet’s opera. But the process of casting Carmen invariably proves to be a more difficult task. Unable to find his envisioned Carmen from their stock company of highly talented dancers, and having implicitly rejected the idea of lead bailaora Cristina for the role in favor of casting a younger, more intriguingly mercurial performer, Antonio decides to broaden his search by visiting local dance schools, unconsciously setting his sights on an inscrutable student coincidentally named Carmen (Laura del Sol) after making an unconscious impression on him by arriving late to a castanet class. From the onset, Antonio’s personal selection of the undisciplined Carmen seems ill conceived. Unable to properly follow Cristina’s instruction to articulate gestures and project the necessary intensity demanded by the challenging choreography, Carmen initially seems relegated to return to the mediocre performances that have defined her earlier career as a flamenco side show dancer at a local restaurant that caters to a predominantly tourist clientele. However, as Antonio becomes increasingly consumed with the idea of molding Carmen into both the image of his envisioned, tragic heroine and ideal romantic interest, truth and fiction begin to blur in the intoxicating haze of passion, possession, jealousy, and betrayal. Anticipating the interwoven Pirandellian narratives of Abbas Kiarostami’s Koker trilogy (especially the young couple of Through the Olive Trees), Carmen is also an insightful and provocative exposition on the interpenetration between reality and performance. However, in contrast to the theme of elevated humanity through the performance of the quotidian that is inherent in Kiarostami’s trilogy, Saura’s perspective is integrally rooted to a cultural interrogation on the underlying nature – and perception – of Spanish identity. At the heart of the discourse is Antonio’s deliberate attempt to divest the story of Carmen from the cultural caricatures inherent in Bizet’s opera (a rejection that is crystallized in the troupe’s parodic performance using the opera as a soundtrack for Antonio’s birthday party), and consequently, re-infuse the authenticity of native performance. It is interesting to note that through Antonio’s deliberate dismantling of cultural myth, Saura incisively defines his character as an implicit embodiment (or more precisely, a de facto authority) of Spanish cultural authenticity. Juxtaposed against his increasing obsession towards his protégée through the unifying narrative of Mérimée’s tragic tale, Antonio’s integral role is invariably – and paradoxically – both underscored and subverted by his increasingly self-destructive acts of objectification and machismo, and trenchantly exposes the unconscious, dark side of Spanish identity as well.
Deprisa, Deprisa, 1981. Inasmuch as Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Goodbye South Goodbye, Nagisa Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth, and Theo Angelopoulos’ The Beekeeper capture the rootlessness of a morally stunted, lost generation that has come of age at a time of profound political and cultural transformation, the reckless, thrill-seeking, young anti-heroes of Carlos Saura’s film also indirectly bear the scars of a life lived in the periphery – paradoxically insulated from the tyranny of institutional rule, but also divorced from the inured resilience engendered by its imposed sense of order. The film opens to the metaphoric image of imposed separation: the perpetration of a car theft by a seemingly experienced hotwirer Meca (Jesús Arias) and designated lookout Pablo (José Antonio Valdelomar) as the two, caught in the act by the owner, roll up the windows and lock the doors to prevent intrusion. Helplessly trapped inside the troublesome vehicle by a mob that has now closed in around them, the pair forces a clear path through the crowd by brandishing a gun, before inevitably making their escape into the street. But the stolen car only proves to be the first step in a more elaborate scheme. Spotting an attractive waitress named Ángela (Berta Socuéllamos) at a local cafeteria, Pablo is immediately captivated by the receptive (and equally restless) young woman, who soon becomes his lover and subsequently, inducts her into their gang after an afternoon of makeshift target shooting (and a reluctant agreement from a third accomplice, Sebas (José María Hervás Roldán) who questions a woman’s capacity for ruthlessness). Alternately spending their idle time at discotheques and video arcades, acting on their impulsive whims, and succumbing to the intoxication of drug use, the emboldened quartet begins to stage an ever-escalating series of hold-ups throughout the city, with increasingly lucrative, and inevitably tragic results. Revisiting the recurring themes of machismo and displaced aggression that pervade Saura’s oeuvre (and first introduced in his groundbreaking allegory, The Hunt) into a provocative exposition on the legacy of disenfranchisement, violence, and arrested development (a theme that also pervades Cría Cuevos) in contemporary, post-Franco Spain, Deprisa, Deprisa is also a raw and sobering portrait of a generation at an existential crossroads, struggling to find mooring and direction in an uncertain climate of transformative, social revolution, as the nation emerged from the repression of fascism towards the liberalization of democracy. Inevitably, it is this dichotomy that is reflected in the recurring image of passing trains that bisect the horizon – a perennial view from the public housing suburb outside the city where Pablo and Ángela live – a visual bifurcation that illustrates, not only their socioeconomic marginality, but also exposes their irreparable moral fissure.
Blood Wedding, 1981. In a sense, Carlos Saura’s first foray into filming classical dance, Blood Wedding, may be seen, not as a stark departure from the immediacy of his narrative films, but rather, as an oblique return to form towards the social interrogations implicit in his earlier work on the fundamental question of Spanish identity – a particularly timely and relevant re-assessment in the aftermath of a contemporary history marked by institutional repression, creative censorship, and historical revisionism. It is within this framework that the selected adaptation of the seminal “rural trilogy” play by Spanish playwright, Federico García Lorca – a writer who was executed by Falangists in the early days of the Civil War and whose work was generally banned throughout Franco’s regime – seems particularly suited to this post Franco-era cultural introspection in its dark and tragic tale of passion, betrayal, and revenge. Ushering the beginning of Saura’s collaborative work with internationally renowned Flamenco dancer and choreographer Antonio Gades, the film eschews the theatricality and polish of a fully staged performance and instead distills the dance to its elemental art form: the repetition, the preparation, the warm-up, and finally, the uninterrupted dress rehearsal. This sense of quotidian grace is also intimated in an early, seemingly anecdotal episode of the dancers preparing backstage, as Gades describes in self-deprecating manner his youthful aimlessless in moving from one meaningless job to another until a friend suggested that he take up dance – a profoundly life-altering advice that, as he humorously realized in hindsight, had actually been a simple goading by his friend to get into the lucrative profession of cabaret dancing. It is instinctual sense of chance, coincidence, and inscrutable – and inescapable – destiny that inevitably lies at the core of Gades and Saura’s adaptation as well – a universal, humanist tale of star-crossed love destroyed by a culture founded on rigid traditions, repression of free will, male aggression, and ritualized violence.
Mama Turns 100 Years Old, 1979. Returning to the dysfunctional family dynamic and generational saga of Anna and the Wolves in its psychological exposition into the root of ingrained human cruelty and repression, the film is a wry, eccentric, and provocative, if underformed satire on the latent trauma and moral repercussions of emotional subjugation, manipulation, and corruption. On the eve of the indomitable family matriarch, Mama’s (Rafaela Aparicio) centenary, former domestic servant Ana (Geraldine Chaplin), now the happily settled wife of a devoted, bohemian husband named Antonio (Norman Briski), has received a personal invitation from Mama herself to stay as a guest in the secluded family estate and celebrate the festivities – an unexpected request that, as Mama subsequently reveals, stems from the inescapable conviction that her family, goaded in part by her conniving daughter-in-law, Luchi (Charo Soriano) and enabled by her dotty, gullible son, Fernando (Fernando Fernán Gómez), has been underhandedly plotting to kill her before she reaches the all-important milestone. However, as Ana and Antonio alternately settle into their awkward roles as accommodating guests of absurd, idiosyncratic rituals and bemused observers of a deeply rended (if superficially intact) familial intimacy, the couple, too, inevitably becomes caught up in the corrosive atmosphere of petty infighting, superficial civility, aimless distraction, nebulous alliances, and emotional deception (a figurative entrapment that is visually encapsulated in Anna accidentally stepping into a rabbit trap within the estate grounds). As in Anna and the Wolves, Saura seamlessly interweaves oneiric images (including the addition of excerpts from the preceding film) and elements of magical realism to illustrate the integral correlation between psychological trauma and physical (and behavioral) manifestation. Concluding with the truncated shot of Mama figuratively casting out the scheming relatives from her immediate circle, the surreal parting image becomes that, not of banishment from paradise, but a reluctant liberation from the performance of a grotesque, dehumanizing charade.
Elisa, My Love, 1977. Marking Carlos Saura’s first film following the death of Franco in 1975 as Spain emerged from the shadows of fascism towards democracy, Elisa, My Love also represents Saura’s creative transition from allusively political to integrally personal filmmaking, resulting in one of his most intimate, captivating, emotionally lucid, and profoundly introspective works on loneliness, aging, passion, reconciliation, and legacy. The film opens to a curiously apparent disjunction: a male narrator recounts an impulsive decision to embark on a haphazardly arranged trip organized by the family from Madrid to the country upon receiving word of their estranged father’s deteriorating health and compromised recuperation after a recently undergone surgery – a reluctant journey to a distant parent that had only been made palatable by the idea of spending time away from home, and providing a convenient distraction from ongoing marital troubles with a (presumably male) spouse named Antonio. In hindsight, the assignment of the masculine voice – later illustrated to be the father’s, a writer and school teacher named Luis (Fernando Rey) – for what is subsequently revealed to be the unexpressed sentiments of his vulnerable and emotionally fragile daughter, Elisa (Geraldine Chaplin) proves to be an incisive trompe l’oeil (or rather, trompe l’oreille) that prefigures the profound, almost instinctual connection between absent father and lost child. Having left his wife (who, uncoincidentally, bears striking physical resemblance to the now adult Elisa) and the family home when Elisa was still a child (Ana Torrent), Luis has broken from his past – not to embark on a new adventure or in search of something better – but to escape its emotional burden, retiring to the country to lead a humble life of solitude writing his autofictional stories from a rented cabin. Encountering a deeply introspective, unfinished, diaristic manuscript among the work-in-progress papers on her father’s desk, Elisa is immediately drawn to her father’s pensive isolation, and accepts his invitation to spend a few days at the cabin where gradually, past and present, reality and imagination, dream and anxiety converge to give form to Elisa’s ephemeral, unarticulated despair over her parents’ traumatic separation and her own failing marriage. Saura’s perceptive juxtaposition of the dark and cramped cabin against the vast, open fields of the rural landscape (a contrasted visual framing that is also underscored in the bookending long shot of the family automobile traversing the unpaved road that leads to the cabin) proves especially suited to the film’s alternating realms of physical and psychological realities – a paradoxical metaphor that encapsulates Elisa’s emotional and existential limbo (and perhaps, more broadly, an indirect allusion to the state of post-Franco Spain itself) between captivity and liberation, terminality and eternity, death and transfiguration.
The Garden of Delights, 1970. In The Garden of Delights, Carlos Saura infuses his now familiar, archetypal elements of financial crisis, physical disability, infirmity, and game hunting that were introduced in his seminal film, The Hunt as subversive, iconic symbols for the rigidity of Francoist corrupted ideology, with a healthy dose of blunt, tongue in cheek – and pointedly allegorical – Buñuelian absurdity to create a perversely wry, acerbic, and trenchant indictment of the bourgeoisie, whose unwavering support of General Franco enabled his ascension to (and retention of) power in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The prefiguring title sequence depicting a derelict, primitive, experimental workshop set to curious, otherworldly sound of a variable shortwave, analog noise provides an idiosyncratically appropriate introduction to the film’s surreal fusion of reality, dreams, interpreted recreation, and fleeting memory, creating an atmosphere of deliberate construction that is subsequently reinforced in the establishing sequence of a re-enacted childhood trauma involving a parental scolding that escalates to a trapped encounter with a large, rambunctious pig (note the comical sighting of the farm animal being scuttled through the kitchen that evokes the thwarted, unspecified “entertainment” of Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel). At the heart of the privileged Cano family’s cruel and bluntly coercive elaborate staging and grotesque charade is a crude attempt at immersive psychotherapy designed to mentally rehabilitate (or at least shock) the partially paralyzed, amnesic, recovering accident victim and sole family bread winner, Antonio (José Luis López Vázquez), whose faltering memory holds the key, not only to the secreted family fortune, but to his company’s – and in turn, his family’s – financial viability as well. Recreating transformative encounters and indelible events as a means of re-introducing Antonio to the essential elements of his life – or rather, the family’s superficial perception of his life – in what Antonio’s father, Don Pedro (Francisco Pierrá) earlier describes as the importance of reinforcing its symbols, what is invariably revealed is the pervasive dysfunction, hypocrisy, and greed inherent in Antonio’s empty, coddled, and self-absorbed life. As in The Hunt, Saura obliquely equates the specter of Francoism with social degradation through allegorical contamination, this time, through its most formidable ally: the church. Juxtaposing Antonio’s first communion with the advent of the Spanish Revolution (note the incisive cameo of franquista hero, Alfredo Mayo, who played the role of Paco in The Hunt), the priest’s sermon, “From a tree with diseased roots, what fruit can we expect?” becomes, not a cautionary tale for the young communicant, but a corrupted prophesy that exposes the church’s own complicity and moral paralysis in the institution of Franco’s repressive regime.
The Hunt, 1966. Anticipating Theo Angelopoulos’ The Hunters in its allegorical dissection of a dysfunctional, polarized, contemporary society engendered by the incestuous and repressive, right-wing regime, Carlos Saura’s taut and subversive magnum opus, The Hunt is a harrowing and potent exposition into the pervasive moral corruption that has surfaced under a corrosive combination of Franco-era class entrenchment and bourgeois entitlement, and a collective consciousness deeply ingrained by an endemic culture of machismo and violence. A seemingly unassuming hunting excursion on a sweltering, summer day that has been arranged by middle-aged aristocrat, Don José (Ismael Merlo) sets the stage for Saura’s fiercely uncompromising indictment of the country’s inexorable path towards self-destruction in the wake of its own rigid and inhumane ideology. Hosting a rabbit hunt for his longtime (if largely estranged) friends, the recently divorced Luis (José María Prada) and self-made businessman, Paco (Alfredo Mayo) – former Nationalist soldiers who, coincidentally, once fought the Loyalists during the Civil War in the same parched and desolate terrain that is now their hunting grounds – José’s nebulous motivation for arranging such an idyllic outing is intimated through vague, private conversations between business partners José and Luis that allude to their mutual interest in gaining Paco’s favor, as well as through conversations between the skeptical Paco and his young brother-in-law and protégé, Enrique (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) who immediately suspect an ulterior, financial motive behind their host’s unexpected, generous invitation. Chronicling the quartet’s idyllic summer outing as the exhilaration of the free range morning hunt invariably gives way to the restlessness of idle waiting, alcohol consumption, exploration, and target practice as José’s dutiful games keeper, Juan (Fernando Sánchez Polack) prepares his pet ferret to enter a rabbit’s lair for another round of hunting, Saura’s austere and clinical gaze – a visual aesthetic that is also reinforced in the film’s high contrast black and white photography – inevitably transforms from the role of social observer to behaviorist as the hunters’ own cultivated habits of desperate, economic (and social) self-preservation are refracted through the scampering rabbits’ own traumatized (and often, fatally predictable), instinctual behaviors for survival against the confused brutality of the hunt. The implicit correlation between the hunters and the hunted – an integral sameness that alludes to the superficiality of an artificially imposed hierarchical order – is also manifested through Paco’s pathological aversion towards the crippled Juan (who may have sustained the injury by stepping into one of the many rabbit traps that riddle the area) that is subsequently echoed in his underlying obsession with a myxomatosis epidemic among the hunted rabbits (an intolerance for weakness that is further reinforced in his presumption that Juan has eaten the infected rabbits). Illustrated though the rampant contagion that has ravaged the rabbit population, Saura paints a provocative and harrowing allegory for the cultural death of post Civil War, Franco-era Spain, not through the imposed violence of systematic extermination, but rather, through the implosive, decadent intoxication of self-inflicted, arbitrary privilege.
Acquarello, 2007 [reprinted]