THE BASTARDS FIG TREE (a.k.a. La Higuera De Los Bastardos) **** Spain 2017 Dir: Ana Murugarren. 103 mins
In 1939, towards the end of the Spanish Civil War, a political war party known as La Falange are executing potential traitors to their country. One night they go out and kill a father and his eldest son leaving the youngest son alive as even they agree that they will not kill a child. However, on executing them one of the soldiers, Rogelio, notices that the youngest son of the murdered man is staring at him with a burning hatred. Rogelio is suddenly overcome by guilt and the fear that one day that boy will hunt him down and kill him. He returns to where the bodies were and discovers that the boy had dug a grave and buried his father and brother together close to their family home and planted a fig branch on the grave. He returns every evening to water the fig. This is where Rogelio finds him and he waters the tree for the boy. It is then that Rogelio makes a commitment and becomes a hermit dedicated to nurturing and guarding this tree in the hope that one day the son might forgive him.
As the years pass the family are forced off their property by a greedy/sneaky man who knows what happened and wants to dig up the bodies under the fig tree and steal the money from their pockets but luckily with Rogelio and his trusty pistol guarding 24 hours a day he is unsuccessful. With the help of the Mayor’s wife, Rogelio is given the plot of land and word of his selfless acts of caring spread around the community. He and the tree become religious symbols of healing and villagers from miles around come to visit only to be met by a very paranoid Rogelio who is fiercely protective of his tree. Rogelios refusal to return to La Falange angers his former soldier friends who make numerous visits to persuade him to forget about this tree. They are scared that the truth will come out and they will all be held accountable. Will Rogelio be able to appease his guilt and be forgiven or will his awful past finally catch up with him?
You realise fairly early on that this is no horror movie, much more a drama/thriller type yet it does have a pretty harrowing storyline at its heart. It’s a story of guilt and revenge that takes a good twenty years to play out. It is an expertly told story from start to finish, due to the amount of dialogue the subtitles run past pretty quickly and some parts are a bit lost in translation which makes it a bit difficult to follow at times but you do pick it up again. It is not played completely straight and it does inject a bit of humour into the characters. Rogelio (Karra Elejalde) is fantastic and you really do start to feel for him as he becomes more and more obsessed with the tree. For something with so much dialogue and little action you might think it would drag but it most certainly does not. It seems to be a very honest movie. At one point Rogelio calls on a priest to visit him and asks him to try and persuade the family to send their now only son away to the Seminary in a last ditch attempt to get Rogelio off the hook as he thinks he will be unable to murder him. He asks the priest ” what do priests do when they get the urge to kill? ” the priest answers “cause a war, so that people will kill for you”. After that answer Rogelio almost gives up hope but accepts his fate and dedicates the time he has left to protecting the tree. This story will stick with you long after watching it and it has some good little twists and characters. A brilliant effort by a talented director that proves you don’t need huge action and attractive stars to make an engaging movie. It just needs to be honest, real and thought provoking and this one is all of the above.
Review by Sarah Budd