The Beasts: Five stars for this terrific, gripping western in disguise

Published date23 March 2023
None of which is to diminish Sorogoyen's achievement. Winner of best film at the recent Dublin International Film Festival, and best foreign-language film at the César Awards (yes, the French Oscars), The Beasts casts the hulking, sensitive Denis Ménochet as Antoine, a Frenchman who, with his wife, Olga (Marina Foïs), moves to Galicia and sets to growing eco-friendly crops. Some of the locals are friendly. But his visits to the nearby bar generate icy hostility. He doesn't yet speak Spanish. He refuses to help his neighbours escape their muddy poverty. His approach to farming is seen as bizarre and effete. One might reasonably think of Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (which, come to think of it, many critics felt was a western in disguise)

Sorogoyen has worked hard at conveying the unforgiving rigour of the rural lifestyle. It adds to the film's enigmatic appeal that, though the meaner neighbours are violent bullies, it is hard not to sympathise with their core argument. Alex de Pablo's camera – playing off a sometime abrasive score – finds real beauty here, but few among us would enjoy carving a living from the rocky soil. Particularly antagonistic to the blow-ins are cackling Xan (Luis Zahera) and his unsophisticated brother, Lorenzo (Diego Anido). Any opportunity to sneer at "Frenchie" is gobbled up greedily. "Did you know the French came here to conquer us in the past?" Xan says. "They came for us because they thought we were morons." Nobody in Ireland could reasonably argue with a nation that traces its animosity back to the era of Napoleon. Only so far?

Initially somewhat overshadowed by her husband, Olga gradually emerges as the more resilient and strategic of the two

As the film progresses, the...

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