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Dan Webster reviews "The Beasts"

Film still of Luis Zahera as Xan in The Beasts (2022).
The Beasts, Arcadia Motion Pictures/Caballo Films/Cronos Ent./Le Pacte/Greenwich Ent., 2022.
Film still of Luis Zahera as Xan in The Beasts (2022).


As daily news reports remind us, the world is engaged in yet another devastating international conflict. If it isn’t war in Ukraine, then it’s war in Israel. But no matter what governments are involved, when such clashes occur, it’s the ordinary citizens who—as usual—get caught in the crossfire.

The same, of course, occurs among individuals. In the Spanish-French film The Beasts, the person so caught is Olga (played by Marina Foïs). She is married to Antoine (played by Denis Ménochet), and the two French expatriates have moved to a remote farm in Galicia, in the northwest of Spain, where they hope to make a living as organic farmers.

With enough effort, they might even make a go of it. The couple do manage to sell their wares at the weekly open-air market to appreciative customers. But then, a problem arises involving their next-door neighbors—the brothers Xan (played by Luis Zahera) and Lorenzo (played by Diego Anido).

Though the film’s director and co-screenwriter Rodrigo Sorogoyen doesn’t provide much of a backstory, it’s clear that the brothers and Antoine have a history. And it isn’t one based on any sense of amiability, which we discover early on when Antoine becomes the target of Xan’s mean-spirited gibes during a spirited game of dominoes.

What we eventually discover is that the brothers harbor a deep resentment of Antoine and Olga, not just because they come from out of town—though Xan has a nasty way of calling Antoine in particular “Frenchy.” No, the resentment runs even deeper than the anger the brothers feel over Antoine and Olga’s refusal to okay a plan to build a series of windmills on nearby land—a plan that the brothers believe will bring them some much-needed income, but one that Antoine in particular believes is a scam.

In one extended scene, which begins with Antoine’s attempting to reach a spirit of accord with the brothers, Xan bares all: he, a guy in his 50s, is jealous of everything Antoine represents—the kind of gentleman farmer who has intruded on land that Xan and others have labored on all their lives, making decisions that Xan believes he has no right in doing. It’s at the end of this scene that we know nothing good is bound to follow.

If any of this sounds familiar, it may be because it bears a strong resemblance to a real-life story that occurred at the turn of the century in the Galician village of Santa Eulalia—a name that time has shortened to "Santoalla." It was in the 1990s that a Dutch couple, Martin Verfondern and Margo Pool, came to Santoalla with the same intentions as the fictional Olga and "Denis" [Antoine].

Their story was told in the 2016 feature titled simply enough: Santoalla, which was co-directed by Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer—a documentary that Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan wrote: “focuses on how the best intentions toward humanity are not enough if an ability to actually get along with fellow human beings is not part of the mix.”

That certainly describes Antoine, an outwardly genial guy who, as the film progresses, becomes less so, both to the consternation of Olga and, ultimately, to his own well-being. He spends an inordinate amount of time videotaping the ongoing friction as it grows with both brothers, which becomes—at least seemingly—a plot point when he suddenly disappears.

Writer-director Sorogoyen shows us the secret of that disappearance, though Olga remains in the dark. She continues to work the farm while continually hounding the local authorities. And as happened in the real case, several years pass—represented by a full 45 minutes of the film’s 2-hour-and-17-minute running time—before the mystery of Antoine’s fate is revealed.

The Beasts is available to watch through any one of several streaming services. As Bestas, as the film is titled in Galician, ended up winning 9 Goyas, Spain’s highest film award, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor for Ménochet and Best Supporting Actor for Zahera. It also won France’s César Award for Best Foreign Film.

Meanwhile, Olga’s real-life counterpart—Margo Pool—to whom the film is dedicated, still lives in Santoalla, a reminder that no matter how serious a conflict might be, life has a way of forging on.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.


Movies 101 host Dan Webster is a senior film critic for Spokane Public Radio and a blogger for