Karra Elejalde, Jordi Sánchez, Carlos Areces, and Pepa Aniorte in La higuera de los bastardos (2017)


(director/writer/editor: Ana Murugarren; screenwriter: from the novel The Fig Tree by Ramiro Pinilla; cinematographer: Josu Inchaustegui; music: Aitzol Saratxaga/Adrián García de losOjos; cast: Karra Elejalde(Rogelio), Pepa Aniorte (Cipriana), Carlos Areces (Ermo), Mikel Losada (Pedro Alberto), Andres Herrera (Luis), Jordi Sánchez (Benito Muro ), José Luis Esteban (Eduardo), Juanlu Escudero (Salvador), Marcos Balgañón Santamaría (Gabino niño), Ramón Barea (Don Eulogio); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joaquín Trincado; Dark Star Pictures; 2017-Spain-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“An absorbing film on the lingering effects of fascism.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The provocative but often silly fictional historical arthouse drama is adapted from the 2006 novel of Basque writer Ramiro Pinilla called The Fig Tree and is written and directed by the Spaniard Ana Murugarren (“Tres Mentiras”). It has a sense of moral power but suffers from a slight plot, too many one-dimensional characters and being cobbled together in a too tiresome linear fashion.

Though it’s still an absorbing film on the lingering effects today from the fascism of the bloody Spanish Civil War. It’s set in the town of Getxo in the Basque country. It tells the tale of the foot soldier, Rogelio (Karra Elejalde), who’s fighting on the side of the fascist Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War.

On a night raid Rogelio is with a band of fascist soldiers, who execute in his house a Republican man (an innocent teacher civilian). The victim’s 10-year-old son glares angrily at Rogelio. This stare unnerves Rogelio. Filled with guilt and fear, he convinces himself that the boy will grow up to kill him. So he leaves the army, and from then on remainson the plot of land where the boy’s father is buried and the kid planted a fig tree. The fig tree reminds Rogelio’s former colleagues of the murder they committed that they want to forget, so they hate it. As it seems only Rogelio wants to keep alive the bad memory of that foul deed.

The film’s point being that the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime are still viewed some 90 years later as a controversial subject. Questions are still raised on how to honor the freedom fighters who gave their life for the cause and how to come to terms with so many of the fascists who greatly profited from the war and never expressed regret for their actions.

The stylish political film is pointed in its suggestions of wanting redemption from the fascists, pointing out how one fascist killer has become a saintly madman hermit to atone for his guilt and has dedicated his life to watching over the fig tree planted by the victim’s young son. It plays out as a fable, one still bothering the modern-day Spaniards who yearn for a more enlightened society to some day emerge in their divided country.