26th Jun2019

‘The Bastards Fig Tree’ Review

by Alain Elliott

Stars: Karra Elejalde, Pepa Aniorte, Carlos Areces, Mikel Losada, Andrés Herrera, Jordi Sánchez, Marcos Balgañón Santamaría, Juanlu Escudero, José Luis Esteban, Ramón Barea | Written and Directed by Ana Murugarren

b-stards-fig-tree-poster

Such an interestingly titled movie immediately got my attention. What could this movie be about – I was intrigued. Well in simple terms, nearing the end of the Spanish Civil War, a Nationalist soldier decides to become a hermit to look after a fig tree. That sounds simple but strange I know, but I will get to a more detailed explanation soon.

The opening scene makes you feel like you’re going to be in for a harsh and brutal ride, as we see a father and his sixteen year old son killed because they are believed to be traitors to the nation. This is done in a rainy and dark forest while in front of the other son who is just six years old. But things don’t stay bleak for the whole of the movies run time. There is some much lighter moments as the years pass. The main character goes from killer soldier to strange hermit to saint. It’s an odd but engaging journey for the most part. After 10/15/20 years of looking after the tree, people become more interested in him. They come to gather, sing and just be around him and the tree, leading to groups that almost begin to worship him. With only a handful of people knowing that the fig tree is on the grave of the father and young son. One woman towards the end of the movie wants her sons blindness to be cured by him. But he understands he is not the man to do this.

And all this because of a look a six year old boy gave him. That’s right. This former soldiers looks after the fig tree, living alongside it day and night because he believes this boy will grow up and kill him, knowing what he has done.

The film does have a slow pace to it but is never boring. The story is original and enjoyable for the most part. Despite that depressing beginning with the end of the civil war as a backdrop, things do brighten up, in a story sense and literally. A lot of the start of the film happens in the night time, it is rain and not very nice things are happening. But as we continue, we see a lot more day time activity, the tree is blossoming and things on the whole are much happier. But there’s an interesting bleakness that turns its head around the corner continually. The appearance of the boy usually does that as we the viewer almost enter the mind of the soldier and see this boy as a threat to his life. There’s a menacing tone to the score when the boy appears to, the use of the music is interesting throughout the film but all of it seems carefully though out and works really well.

Perhaps the story is kept to simple. I wanted a more in depth look at some of the characters, no-one seems to have much background and therefore it’s hard to care about them in good or bad ways. The relationship between the soldier and a neighbour is a highlight at times. They seem to hate each other but have a need for each others company too but I wanted to know more about them both. It feels like the surface is only scratched.

The film ends with a hugely depressing but perfect and beautiful shot, leaving you not quite sure how to feel and probably asking – why? But The Bastards Fig Tree is still an interesting original piece that doesn’t quite excite enough.

*** 3/5

The Bastards Fig Tree is available digitally, in the US, now.

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