Review: The Open Body
- Ángeles Huerta's first fiction feature film faithfully adapts a story by Xosé Luis Méndez Ferrín, managing to project the strength of the author's words in beautiful and powerful images
In the opening shots of The Open Body [+see also:
film profile], screened at the Ourense Film Festival, we see a horse-drawn carriage riding into the misty landscape of the Galician mountains. The voice of Miguel (Tamar Novas) reads a letter addressed to his uncle. In it, he shares with him his first impressions of the journey that takes him to an unknown and remote place, where he will start working as a teacher in a single-room school. This place is Lobosandaus, the name given to the story by Xosé Luís Méndez Ferrín on which the film is based, a village in Ourense very close to the border with Portugal. From the outset, Ángeles Huerta's talent for capturing the landscape with her camera, full of personality and mystery, is evident. The bodies of the horses pulling the cart, the paths that open up in the middle of the green mountains, the leafy groves and the thick mist are arranged in such a way that they become a gateway to another world.
As soon as we reach Lobosandaus, accompanying the new teacher, we are immersed in a mystery that pervades the place and we become infected by the murky fascination it elicits in the protagonist. The village is inhabited by a handful of families, the men mostly work in the mountains which keeps them busy all day and the women are responsible for looking after the homes and children. Busy educating the little ones in a place that doesn't seem to offer much hope for the future, Miguel can't help but find his mood darken as the shadows of winter grow thicker. Strange curiosity at the beginning gradually turns to unease as his relationship grows with the new world he inhabits and the people who inhabit it.
There is no need to say too much about what happens to the young teacher during his stay in Lobosandaus. Let’s just say that the way of life of a group of men and women who are alien to him and the exuberant beauty of a landscape that is more aggressive than welcoming manage to disturb the spirit of a man whose life had always been guided by the power of reason. Huerta's aforementioned ability to create an immersive atmosphere using all available resources is undeniable. The entire cast also matches up to this. In addition to Tamar Novas' solid performance, there is the excellent work of Victória Guerra and María Vázquez as Dorinda and Obdulia, respectively. The two actresses give life to two opposing women, who are caught up in powerful intimate conflicts, capable of disrupting the life of the village and transforming the visiting teacher's perception of reality.
It may be hard at times to decide whether The Open Body wishes to be a classic horror story or an intimate rural drama, but most of the time the film manages to shift between these two genres, combining them to tell a story that is as suggestive and disconcerting as it is ultimately moving.
(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)
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