“Money’s all people think about now,” says one character in Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s As Bestas, a gripping tale set in the Spanish countryside. Simmering with menace, it’s a film that recalls John Boorman’s classic Deliverance, as out-of-town folk intrude upon an enclosed rural community. Marking Sorogoyen’s first appearance at Cannes, As Bestas – which translates as ‘The Beasts’ – has just been unveiled in the Première section of the film festival. The Spanish director previously presented his 2018 film Madre at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival. Scripted by Sorogoyen and co-writer Isabel Peña, the film brings a fresh perspective to the age-old issue of the outsider.
Frenchman Antoine (Denis Ménochet), a well-travelled, educated former teacher, lives with his wife Olga (Marina Foïs) on a farm that they purchased in the Galician region just two years back. Their presence has clearly unsettled the locals, notably two brothers, Xan (Luis Zahera) and Lorenzo (Diego Anido), who live close by with their elderly mother. The main bone of contention is an offer from developers, who want to install wind turbines on nearby land. It will bring the poverty-stricken residents much-needed money, but Antoine refuses. Why? “Because it’s my home,” he says.
Refusing to take this, Xan and his sibling begins a series of intimidating gestures towards their neighbours. At first, Antoine finds two liquor bottles outside their house, and their outdoor furniture has been urinated upon. The police make sympathetic noises but seemingly don’t wish to get involved in a domestic. Increasingly infuriated at these tactics, Antonine begins carrying a small video camera with him, secretly trying to capture any incriminating evidence. The tension builds from there before a shocking moment of confrontation.
Yet the final act, with the action moving on a year, takes the film into a surprising but seamless and satisfying direction. The story widens, throwing the spotlight on Antoine and Olga’s marriage. A powerful tale about devotion and love, as much as revenge and violence, it comes packed with intense performances from the whole cast, who contribute to the film’s brooding atmosphere. It also tackles the untapped violence of humanity – the real beasts of the title despite the opening slow-motion shot of horses, an image that will have greater resonance later on.
The Cannes Film Festival runs until May 28th.