Bosque de sombras (Backwoods)
If I'm to be honest there was only one reason I was attracted to this film originally, and that was Gary Oldman. He never fails to deliver a great performance, no matter what film he's in, even if it's a bad film. So I thought it would be worth seeing this film for that reason alone.
Bosque de sombras, or Backwoods, is a film from Spain which mixes nationalities of actors and mixes English and Spanish in the dialogue. The film follows two couples who are holidaying deep in the countryside of the Basque region of Spain.
Paul and Isabel, played by Oldman and Sánchez-Gijón, have bought a cottage deep in the woods, near the region where Paul grew up. Norman and Lucy, played by Considine and Ledoyen, are friends of the couple, but unlike Paul and Isabel, their marriage is struggling.
When they arrive in the region we see their relationships begin to play out, and one morning as Paul and Norman are out hunting, they find a deserted and locked cottage, and inside a terrible secret that the villagers have been trying to hide.
The film then turns into more of a thriller as we follow the journey of the couples as they try to protect what is inside the cottage from the villagers. There's a distinct feel of Straw Dogs and similar films here, but this isn't as visually harrowing, the key here is tension.
What I found most interesting about this film is that at its heart it is a story about different people and their misunderstandings of each others way of life. What it also holds close is the complete reality base of the story and the characters and how human they all are.
The story is very simple and yet very real, and set in 1970 it doesn't overpower the story with setting, costume or time period. There's no traditional evil character, indeed Paco, the leader of the villagers, is as reluctant to turn to violence as anyone, and any violence is opportune and borne out of ignorance.
The strength of this story is in the slow building of the characters and their relationships, with the two most powerful being between Paul and Paco, played by Lluís Homar, and Norman and his wife Lucy.
Paul and Paco head off into the woods searching for a lost local girl, and it's here that the film builds most of its tension. They each withhold secrets from each other and as they walk they verbally challenge each other, like gentleman in a duel of swords, they parry and probe through their conversation. It's wonderfully done and you feel drawn into the moment and the growing tension as the situation Paul is in grows more and more dangerous.
Meanwhile the relationship with Lucy and Norman is interesting to watch develop. At the beginning of the film it is clear that they are close to breaking apart and they seem to deliberately antagonise each other rather than try to solve their differences, and as events occur around them, Norman slips deeper and deeper into a feeling of helplessness and anger.
It's from these relationships that the film builds the unease and tension with the audience, and it leads to its uncertain conclusion.
Not only is the acting and the story strong, the film is superbly shot. The first thing you notice is that despite the 1970's setting it isn't overly so, and by that I mean you aren't distracted by old cars, memorabilia and flares.
Some of the scenes look almost classic in their framing, particularly the closing scenes in the rain. There's a strong western feel to sections of the film, but not the balls out gunfights, rather the head to head of the characters and their old value ways.
The performances from all actors are superb. Oldman is restrained and plays his character very naturally, showing that he's one of the best British actors there is, and undoubtedly one of the best actors full stop.
The nervousness and self doubting of Norman by Considine is very well played and his character progression is another extremely real aspect of the film. Interestingly he had me drawn more to him than the confident, self assured role from Oldman. As he becomes more angry and decisive the change is dramatic and quite disconcerting.
The female leads are not only beautiful, but carry as much character as the males. Their performances are very good too. They are again natural and give a layered performance, particularly Ledoyen who presents a troubled performance of a woman who has a lot on her mind, and when she plays off of Considine it is clear to see what these problems are.
They both retain a strong presence in the film against some very strong male leads. You can see it in every scene, there's an elegance and self assuredness to their characters, even in moments of adversity.
The Spanish actors follow the example of the story and the other actors as well, keeping that grounded and very real performance without letting their characters become those overly demonised cut outs that "the locals" can often become in these type of films.
Again nothing is overly explained and spelled out as in so many Hollywood films, there's a natural feel to the reveals here and you do feel that you are discovering their problems through the characters.
The ending of the film was very strong and looked wonderful on screen as the new found character of Norman faces off against the reluctant Paco and we see our understanding of the characters reversed. There were a few hints at a clichéd ending, but it's well avoided, doesn't take an easy way out, and ends up stronger for it. It also leaves the story suitably unresolved, something that once again reflects the reality of life.
Overall I found this well written and very well filmed, the performances and the dialogue give a very real feel to the film and build tension and conflicts without the need for grand moments.