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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2019 Competition

Review: The Endless Trench

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- Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga revisit the horrific plight of the Spanish men who spent years in hiding for fear of Francoist reprisals

Review: The Endless Trench
Antonio de la Torre and Belén Cuesta in The Endless Trench

The senseless barbarity of the civil war and its legacy — the fascist dictatorship that pummelled Spain for forty years — weighs heavy on Spanish cinema this season. Two contenders in the Official Section of the 67th San Sebastián International Film Festival take us back to this era: the first, Alejandro Amenábar’s While at War [+see also:
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interview: Alejandro Amenábar
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, is set at the moment when the violence was first unleashed, while the other spans the decades that followed the frenzy of the civil war and would leave an indelible mark on the Spanish people, saturating the very air they breathed. The Endless Trench [+see also:
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interview: Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño an…
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is directed by Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga, known for their respective work in various capacities (writing, staging and production) on films like Flowers (Loreak) [+see also:
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or The Giant [+see also:
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interview: Aitor Arregi and Jon Garaño
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]
, winner of the Special Jury Prize at this same festival two years ago.

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Like The Giant, The Endless Trench is unstinting in its meticulous attention to historical detail, although due to the film’s thematic material the majority of scenes take place indoors. While the décor at times seems a little plush for a period ravaged by material and moral privation, overall the film does an admirable job of recreating the physical and mental claustrophobia suffered by its protagonists. The sensitivity shown by the trio of directors in their previous work is much in evidence here, in a story laden with often stifled emotion. Intimate camera work brings us right up close to the central character as we experience his flight, his confinement and his longing for freedom.

The lead is none other than Antonio de la Torre, no stranger to deprivation of sunlight — many readers will remember his turn in A Twelve-Year Night [+see also:
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, directed by Álvaro Brechner, as political prisoner José Múgica. While his credibility in that role was boosted by a willingness to shed a significant amount of weight, here it is the make-up chair he must suffer for his art; the relentless passage of time is etched into his face through the arduous work of the film’s hair and make-up team. De la Torre is joined by a surprising Belén Cuesta, who we don’t expect to see in a role where the only flash of humour comes from a remark about Franco’s more effeminate qualities, being best known from her work in comedies such as Paco León’s Kiki, Love to Love [+see also:
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.

Skilful sound production (for most of the film’s run, the recluse can only guess at what is happening in the outside world through snatches carried in the air), the lexical device of definitions superimposed on the blacked-out screen that punctuates the narrative and a tone at times reminiscent of a horror film (the fingerprints of co-writer Luiso Berdejo, mastermind of thrillers like Painless [+see also:
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, are plain to see) elevate the film and give it a potent punch. We cannot help but be reminded that we, too, could easily find ourselves plunged back into the nightmare of fascism, as the writers take a powerful stand against betrayal, hatred between brothers, the privation of liberty (as we discover, “moles” were not the only “ghosts” of the dark days of the Franco era) and unbridled savagery. It is just unfortunate that its 147-minute running time drags the film down, so that at times it does indeed feel, well, endless.

The Endless Trench is a co-production by Irusoin, Moriarti Produkzioak, La Claqueta PC and La Trinchera Film AIE (Spain) together with France’s Manny Films. The production was supported by the ICAA in association with TVE, Netflix, Canal Sur and ETB. Barcelona agency Film Factory Entertainment is managing international sales, and the film will be distributed in Spain by Eone.

(Translated from Spanish)

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