Friday, August 19, 2016

Foreign movie Friday: Palmeras en la Nieve (Palm Trees in the Snow)

This 2015 Spanish film stars Adriana Ugarte, whom I loved in the tv series "El Tiempo Entre Costuras". Here though, she doesn't have a substantial role as the narrative catalyst Clarence de Rabaltue, but the movie itself was memorable. 

Told in a mixture of past and present, it's a story of undying but forbidden love. This in a time of colonial occupation by Spain in what is now Equatorial Guinea, in the mid-1950s. This is when a young Spanish man, Killian, arrives on the island of Bioko to work alongside his father and brother, Jacobo, on a cocoa plantation. 

Right away, we know that this Jacobo is a bit of bad news. He toys with the feelings of Julia, a family friend, and is quite a macho ass in general. Meanwhile, Killian finds himself experiencing a life-changing (and mutual) attraction to  Bisila, a young nurse in the plantation hospital.

There's quite a lot going on because all this is a flashback. Killian's niece Clarence (she's named after a volcano!) has arrived 40 years later on the island, in pursuit of the woman and child who she discovers were being paid monthly allowances by her family. The story unfolds through letters, photos, and the recollections of the now-old Bisila.

The relationships between the Spanish masters and the local workers are the interesting backdrop to much of the action. There are several scenes of violence and cruelty, but what did I expect? Might made right, and still does, in much of the world. To compensate, there is the sweeping cinematography which captures the steamy lushness of the island. Especially memorable was the scene where a few lavishly colorful macaws take off across the screen. 

Many of the other scenes from the 1950s are gorgeous too. During the present day scenes, though, I was bothered by what seemed like inconsistencies in Clarence's personality. She seems curious, independent and self-possessed, but the random sexual encounter with a near-stranger who's been brusque and presumptuous came off as a head-scratcher. And the film's length- 2 hours and 42 minutes!- is almost unpardonable. I had to watch in three installments, so I confess some of the flow and narrative energy may have dissipated for me. It also resulted in a bit of confusion regarding chronology; but the treatment of this aspect is admittedly, choppy.

Still, the intricacies of the family's mysteries and their recollections of a less-than-glorious past are substantial enough to keep the interest going. The 'snow' in the title refers to their hometown in a tranquil, mountainous region of Spain: a striking contrast to the saturated colors and political upheavals of the colony. The story begins and ends filled with snow, and one gets the significance of the title only at the very end.

Overall rating: 7.5/10
Director: Fernando Gonzalez Molina

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