Spanish title: La noche de los girasoles
Country: Spain, France, Portugal
Director: Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo
Produced by Belén Bernuy, Luís Galvão Teles, Michael Gentile, Enrique González Macho, Sandra Hermida, Leonel Vieira and Rafael Álvarez for Alta Films, Backup Films, The Film, Fado Filmes and Stopline Films
Story and screenplay: Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo
Music: Krishna Levy
Cinematographer: Ángel Iguácel
Editor: Pedro Ribeiro
Art director: Diego Modino, Alberto Sánchez-Cabezudo
Cast: Carmelo Gómez (Esteban), Judith Diakhate (Gabi), Celso Bugallo (Amadeo), Manuel Morón (Vendedor), Mariano Alameda (Pedro), Vicente Romero (Tomás), Walter Vidarte (Amós), Cesáreo Estébanez (Cecilio), Fernando Sánchez-Cabezudo (Beni), Petra Martínez (Marta), Nuria Mencía (Raquel), Enrique Martínez (Julián), Mariano Peña (Rovira), Amalia Hornero (Rosa), Luís Mascarenhas (Federico), Luís Alberto (Valentín), Ramón Martinez (Guardia joven), Nadia Casado (Chica), Rodolfo Sancho (Chico), Pedro Ignacio García (Sargento)
The narrative recounts events through the eyes of six different characters. A travelling vacuum cleaner salesman (Manuel Moron), who also happens to be a rapist and murderer. Given false directions to a potential lead, he ends up in a small town in the poor, mountainous area of Las Hurdes. Spying an attractive young woman on her own (Judith Diakhate), he tries to assault her. She manages to escape, but is left traumatized, and when she’s picked up by her boyfriend Esteban (Carmelo Gomez) – a geologist researching a newly discovered cave – she points out the first man she happens to see as her attacker. This poor chap is a farmer, one of only two people left in a ‘dying’ village, and is killed during a confused fight.
Understandably freaked, and realizing that they may have been responsible for the death of the wrong man, they flag down the first car they see. Unfortunately, this is being driven by Tomas (Vicente Romero), a foolish civil guard who is desperate to escape his unfulfilled life. Spotting a chance to make a lot of money, he suggests that rather than admitting the truth, the city
folk would be better off hiding the body and, if they pay him a substantial amount of cash, he’ll persuade his boss that the dead man had simply left the village, much like just about everyone else has. Unfortunately, his boss, Amadeo (Celso Bugallo), who also happens to be his father-in-law, is nobody’s fool…
Night of the Sunflowers is an excellent Spanish thriller directed with some class by the debuatant Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo, who made some acclaimed shorts back in the mid-90s. Influenced by both the ‘backwoods massacre’ genre of the 70s and the multiple viewpoint scripts of Guillermo Arriaga, it’s a gripping, intelligent film that picked up several awards within Spain, but was rather overlooked in the international festival circus.
A superbly atmospheric and very well acted ensemble piece, I really can’t recommend this highly enough. It stands in a recent cycle of high-quality European thrillers that are generic, but also work beyond their genres; films like The Lives of Others, The Consequences of Love, Lemming, Hidden and Spain’s own Intacto. Bizarrely, it has a number of similarities with Hispanic B-Movies from the seventies, many of which also focused on the clash between the urban and the rural poor (Sánchez-Cabezudo has referred to Straw Dogs, but could just have easily been inspired by The Vampire’s Night Orgy or A Candle for the Devil… albeit that the story is initiated by the visitors themselves rather than out of an incompatibility with their hosts).
Review by Matt Blake, 2007
What the critics said
“The effect is like different plates of an etching being placed over each other, interesting in themselves, but creating an image deeper and denser than any of them taken individually. It’s an exciting picture of a crime and how its ripples beget other acts of turpitude and create new victims. It effortlessly creates a portrait of a community and its place within the national consciousness. The acting is impeccable.” Philip French, The Guardian.
“There are moments of inelegant melodrama, but the structuring is satisfyingly intricate and the sinister atmosphere surrounding a seemingly sleepy community is captured with a facility that makes the amorality of the denouement all the more shockingly cogent.” David Parkinson, Empire.
“Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo finds an unlikely home for film noir in the forgotten hinterlands of the Spanish interior with his gripping, assured debut “The Night of the Sunflowers.” A dark, substantial plotline parceled out over six increasingly tantalizing episodes and an intimate knowledge of the dynamics of Spanish rural life are the twin foundations for a beguiling piece with a shot at welding Spanish concerns to a U.S. genre.” Variety.
“It was very important to me because it’s something that’s happening in Spain and all over Europe. Rural areas are not a priority for the European Union but the countryside is a very big part of the Spanish identity because it was the basis of our culture and our economy. Since the second half of the twentieth century there has been an exodus and many villages have been completely abandoned. Rural cinema was a strong tradition in Spain, we had many films about country life. I wanted to talk about that Spain, but the way it is now. It was important to have a new perspective on what is happening because everything is changing and there is a whole way of life that is going to disappear completely. Again here I don’t have any answers because I know some villagers welcome the changes while others don’t, but I’m showing what’s happening. And it was perfect for a thriller because there’s an atmosphere of decadence. It’s also the decadence of the characters. I didn’t want to talk about it directly and make a social film. I like films like The Third Man, where the decadence of the background invades the characters and causes moral confrontations between them. It’s not in the foreground but it’s something that enters the characters and is dealt with obliquely through the crime story.” Interview with Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo, Electric Sheep Magazine.