Tonight we watched a Spanish film we rented from netflix, El Mar. Excuse my French, but I just have to say that this film is fucked up — and not in a good way.

The movie starts during the Spanish Civil War. Three children, two boys and a girl, witness a series of violent acts, which leaves them emotionally scarred. We meet up with them again a decade later. One of the boys has become a prostitute, one has become a religious zealot who uses the rituals of his faith to sublimate his desire for the male prostitute, and the girl has become a nun. (She too seems to be in love with the slutty one.)

The cinematography is excellent. And the religious zealot/gay boy is kind of cute. But apart from those two qualities, this movie is just fucked up. At first I thought it might be using tuberculosis as a metaphor for AIDS or something, which might have been interesting. But I don’t think that’s what it was really doing. Then I thought that it might be a critique of Catholicism’s sexual repressiveness. But that didn’t seem right either. By the film’s penultimate scene, a climactic confrontation between the two young men, I just didn’t care anymore what it was trying to do.

And I won’t even discuss the gratuitous and rather graphic violence against a cat, which is almost impossible to watch if you like animals at all. The film passes this violence off as little more than a plot point; the perpetrator is immediately forgiven and the act is dismissed as just one more example of his violent anger, but this anger doesn’t seem meant to turn the audience against him. Instead, the film doesn’t seem to know what we’re supposed to think about most of what happens in it.

One critic maintains that

The message is clear: Children learn the ways of the world early. They take the horrors they see in childhood with them into adulthood and express them in their own new horrific ways. It’s a depressing concept, but it makes for interesting stories.

Horrific, yes. Depressing, maybe. Interesting, not really. I’ll take sweet German coming out films over horrific Spanish ones any day!

Again, here’s the trailer: