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SEVILLE 2020

Review: Ons

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- Alfonso Zarauza’s latest film testifies to the maturity of a director whose steady hand maintains the fragile equilibrium of a story packed full of sharp edges and hidden mysteries

Review: Ons
Antonio Durán “Morris”, Diego Anido and Melania Cruz in Ons

Six years have passed since the release of Aces [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alfonso Zarauza
film profile
]
, the film directed by Alfonso Zarauza which saw Lola Dueñas shine in the shoes of a fierce woman who made her mark in a world of men, driven by her survival instinct alone. And now the Galician filmmaker is returning with Ons [+see also:
trailer
interview: Alfonso Zarauza
film profile
]
, an altogether different tale which the 17th Seville European Film Festival is embracing within its Extraordinary Stories line-up. Social conflict, and the desire to depict a harsh working life, which we saw in his previous film, are replaced, in this instance, by a painfully intimate drama which looks to piece together a rigorous study of human emotions. The titular island acts as a catalyst for these complex emotions, but it’s also the ideal setting for a series of worrying mysteries which smother the various characters’ bodies and minds.

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To begin with, we follow the story of a couple in crisis: Vicente and Mariña (the wonderful Antonio Durán “Morris” and Melania Cruz) travel to the island of Ons to relax and to try to rebuild their precarious relationship which has been weighed down by the passing of the years and the changes these have wrought. Watching the first few minutes of the film, we could be forgiven for thinking we’ve seen it all before - there are so many films depicting the end of a relationship in an idyllic setting. But as we slowly discover the space playing host to these characters and their idiosyncrasies, we realise that the film seeks to go far further than we might ever have imagined. Little by little, elements of a more extraordinary nature enter onto the scene, from the lighthouse with its omnipotent power and the effect it has on the inhabitants, to the landscape and climate of the island, and on again to the mysterious woman who appears drenched on the beach having narrowly escaped drowning. There’s no real need for any detailed explanations; suffice to say the film plays out without ever really revealing all of its cards, and this entices us to want to know more, to stay attentive and alert, and to ask ourselves questions, which Zarauza refuses to answer exhaustively.

Ons’ success likely resides in its ability to suggest without revealing, but also in the command the director demonstrates over the space in question. Zarauza takes a hold of the unique geography characterising this setting, he captures the precise way in which it conditions the characters’ psyches and, last but not least, he manages to bridge the fragile gap between fiction and reality, lending nuances to a story that’s oftentimes extraordinary and revealing the innermost essence of a real-life location and its history.

It’s not easy finding flaws in a film which so clearly bears the mark of its co-screenwriter Jaione Camborda. It’s as if several of the characters drifting through Ons have stepped straight out of the latter’s stupendous first work Arima [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jaione Camborda
film profile
]
. Also well worth mentioning is the overall performance of the cast: flanking the afore-mentioned leading couple are a handful of actors, well-established on the Galician audiovisual scene, who lend charisma and charm to a group of people we wouldn’t all want to spend a holiday with, on a small-scale island in the Atlantic. Viewers of a less patient disposition will probably struggle to get on board with the film, and those endowed with a more sophisticated palate might find their needs are somewhat unsatisfied. Either way, it’s safe to say there’s an audience out there who will welcome Zarauza’s latest work with gusto; an audience which is increasingly accustomed to sampling flavoursome film offerings hailing from a remote corner of south-west Europe.

Ons is produced by Galician firm Maruxiña Film Company and Portuguese outfit Bando à Parte.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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