"THE HOLY INNOCENTS" is an exquisite study in contrasts set against the bucolic beauty of the Spanish countryside.
Filmed as a series of flashbacks, the story unfolds through the eyes of a family of farm laborers. From various vantage points in the present, each member recalls the hardships of mid-'60s life on an estate owned by a stereotypically cruel and heartless upper-class family.
Alfredo Landa, 1984 Cannes Film Festival "Best Actor" winner, offers a heartwarming performance as Paco, the father. A resigned and obedient man, he remembers breaking his foot a second time because he was forced to act as a bird dog when his leg was in a cast.
And Francisco Rabal, also a "Best Actor" winner, is memorable as Paco's brother-in- law, Azarius, a man as simple and natural as the creatures he cares for (he urinates on his hands "so they won't chap" and defecates when and where the need arises). Azarius reflects back to the day his pet goshawk was shot because the "young master" had a lousy afternoon.
In this feudalistic world, where landlords treat their servants like animals (the icy marchioness once absently compares a worker's children to his pigs), the film draws the conclusions for us.
These laborers commune with nature and are therefore inherently good and lovable. The owners are completely insensitive to their surroundings, and are, almost without exception, wholly inhumane.
Yet, although the point of view of "The Holy Innocents" is decidedly one-dimensional, director Mario Cuso makes the most of his magnificent surroundings in Northern Spain, and frequently injects touches of wisdom and humor when driving home his message.
THE HOLY INNOCENTS -- In Spanish with English subtitles at the Key Theater.