New Fantasy Releases: The Bastards' Fig Tree (2019) - Reviewed

I watch a lot of screeners. Some are good. Some are flawed. Some are various shades of terrible. And some are unforgivable. It’s the ritual of being a film watcher. To get to the good, you must go through the bad. You hope that you stumble upon a hidden gem, knowing the odds aren’t in your favor. Every film critic is really looking for something that really knocks your socks off. Every now and then, you see a film that is powerful and deeply moving. This is that film.

In THE BASTARDS' FIG TREE, Rogelio, a powerful fascist soldier in the Spanish Civil War, ruthlessly hunts down and eliminates Spaniards who dare to go against the new regime. One night, when capturing a man for execution, he locks eyes with the man’s ten-year-old son. Like most human beings, he is overcome with terror and guilt. He is convinced this boy will track him down and kill him once he reaches of age. This paralyzing fear and guilt leads to Rogelio staying where the grave of the boy’s father is to amend for his crimes and avoid the son’s revenge by tending to the fig tree that is growing on the grave. To say anymore would spoil where this wonderful film goes.

Directed by Ana Murugarren, The Bastards' Fig Tree is a marvelous film. I was shocked by how well directed and confident that Murugarren’s work is, especially considering this is her second feature film. Something tells me that her work is going to blow up in the next couple of years if she keeps making films as good as this.

The framing and staging of scenes allows the audience to soak in the world of the film. The stark differences between the lightness and framing of the post war scenes and the darkness of the scenes during war allow the audience to visually identify the cost and feeling bloody conflict can have on the soul. We understand what war has done to Rogelio and his country. Karra Elejalde is fantastic as Rogelio, selling the characters journey in a believable and moving way. This is a role that is quite challenging to play and he manages to bring humanity and honesty to it in a way that many would struggle with.

The Bastards' Fig Tree is one that resonates in these polarizing and horrifying times. It is a film that is both darkly comedic and warm. It asks questions that many films would avoid asking in a way that is compelling and moving. With this kind of set up, you would imagine that this is a revenge thriller. It’s not. It’s a film about redemption and guilt. Can we come back from the horrors of war and build something better in the ashes of so much blood and carnage? The film is ultimately about the two paths a nation’s history can take after turmoil: do we ignore the ugly stains of our own past or embrace the mistakes and make amends as we move forward?

-Liam S. O'Connor