Spanish title: Acantilado
Director: Helena Taberna
Produced by Iker Ganuza for Lamia Producciones, El contenido del silencio, A.I.E., Euskal Irrati Telebista (EiTB), Gobierno de Navarra, Televisión Española (TVE), Zentropa International Berlin
Story and screenplay: Helena Taberna, Andrés Martorell, Natxo López, based on the novel by Lucía Etxebarría
Music: Ángel Illarramendi
Cinematographer: Javier Agirre
Editor: Teresa Font
Art director: Javier Alvariño
Cast: Daniel Grao (Gabriel), Juana Acosta (Helena), Goya Toledo (Santana), Ingrid García Jonsson (Cordelia), Ana Gracia (Heidi), Josean Bengoetxea (Martínez), Jon Kortajarena (Julián), Maiken Beitia (Marion), Ciro Miró (Artemi), Xabier Elorriaga (Antonio), Itsaso Arana (Patricia), Ramón Ibarra (Comisario), Magdalena Aizpurua (Policía), Ayoze Rodríguez Santana (Celador de Necrópolis), Paulo Martín Rosario (Ayudante de Necrópolis), Daniel Otegi (Forense), Acorayda Bolaños (Adepta), Daniel Asencio (Adepto), Laura Suárez (Adepta), Carlos Ramón Gil (Adepto), Begoña Ojeda (Adepta), Jacob Jesús Medina (Adepto), Miriam Ruiz (Adepta), Cristian Betancor (Adepto), María Mendoza (Adepta), Naudin Morales (Adepto), David Díaz (Adepto), Kevin Perdomo (Adepto), Krystof Jacek (Adepto), María Rosa García (Adepta), Eduardo Moreno (Adepto)
Spanish takings: €89.396,04
Spanish spectators: 15,331
Budget: €2,500,000 (estimated)
Gabriel (Daniel Grao), an assistant district attorney from Bilbao, receives news that his estranged sister Cordelia is likely to have killed herself as part of a mass suicide carried out by a cult called ‘The Community’ based on the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria island. Her body, however, is missing, as is that of the cult leader, Heidi Mayer (Ana Gracia). Gabriel, having travelled to the island upon the discovery of an unidentified corpse (which doesn’t turn out to be that of his sister), becomes close to Helena (Juana Acosta), Cordelia’s former flatmate. Neither of them believe that Cordelia is dead, so they decide to investigate ‘The Community’ and find out the truth themselves. In the meantime, local police inspector Santana (Goya Toledo) has her own reasons for wanting to find Heidi and Cordelia: her boyfriend has also disappeared after having infiltrated the cult on her behalf.
Here’s a slow moving, rather literary thriller from Spanish director Helena Taberna (who made the acclaimed Yoyes back in 2000) and based on a novel by screenwriter Lucía Etxebarría. It’s a more sedate, less twisty-turny type of affair than some Spanish films of the type; it could perhaps be described as having a female touch, with an emphasis on the relationships rather than clever plotting as well as an array of strong female characters (the male protagonist, on the other hand, is a rather passive character). It lacks the cojones of the likes of El Nino or The Body, but it offers other, perhaps more subtle, pleasures.
Although a mystery film, the focus here is also on the network of relationships which connect the assorted characters: there are familial, sub-familial and romantic links between Gabriel and Cordelia, Cordelia and Helena, Cordelia and Heidi, Gabriel and Helena, Santana and Julián (her undercover boyfriend), Julián and Cordelia. The narrative itself unfolds in parallel, with Gabriel and Helena’s investigation opening out into extensive flashbacks showing how Cordelia became involved with ‘The Community’ and depicting the events that transpired building up to the mass suicide. In the meantime there are several sub-plots which are raised and never really examined further, most particularly the enormous red herring that Heidi’s father had previously presided over another mass suicide on the island some decades earlier (a fact which has been conveniently forgotten by just about everyone). Also not entirely effective is the implied social comment (is the reason why people are drawn to these kinds of extreme beliefs because there’s something lacking from ‘normal’ society?) as well the implied links with the ancient culture and mystical qualities of Las Palmas (which seems to exert a psychological hold over the assorted characters who live or visit there)
Despite the inconsistencies in the script and the somewhat predictable climactic revelations, it’s still an intriguing premise which holds the interest despite the lugubrious pacing. It’s greatly helped by the amazing locations while the cinematography has a rather poetic bent, with regular shots of the endless sea and bodies falling from the tops of cliffs (as in the memorable opening sequences). The performances are of a generally high standard (although Ingrid García Jonsson’s waif-like Cordelia is an eminently irritating ‘free spirit’ of a character).
Review by Matt Blake, 2017
“[What attracted me to Lucía Etxebarría’s novel was] the theme of the sects. I thought it was a good novel. I was looking at things to do, I did not know what stories to embark on … I read Lucia’s story and it seemed powerful. I went to the Canary Islands, took the opportunity to investigate and found really curious things in that period it was about… [It deals with] the complicated formula which makes compatible living as part of a group, a collective, with individual freedom. Groups or cliques exist in all areas of life and we all belong in one way or another to some of them, because the group protects you, helps you – but it also takes away your freedom and forces you to certain servitudes.” Helena Taberna: “No creo merecerme tanta dificultad”, El Mundo.
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