(director/writer: Andrew Becker/Daniel Mehrer; cinematographers: Andrew Becker/Daniel Mehrer; editors: Andrew Becker; music: Andrew Becker; Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Cristina De La Torre, Andrew Becker, Daniel Mehrer; Oscilloscope; 2016-Spain/USA-in Gallego and English with English subtitles, if necessary)
“A rewarding human interest documentary.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The debut directorial effort by the Brooklyn-based Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer, who do all the other filmmaking chores, is a rewarding human interest documentary that turns into a murder mystery. It tells the true story of an idealistic Dutch couple, Martin and Margo Verfondern, who flee Amsterdam to relocate in the remote and abandoned village of Santoalla (shortened from Santa Eulalia) to begin a fresh life as self-sufficient farmers. The couple seek “a quiet life without rules, without people who tell you what you can do, what you can’t do.” The Galicia region chosen is a mountainous area in the northwestern part of Spain, with winding roads to the village. It’s where the couple believe they have found their heaven on earth.
The couple travel for two years in a camper looking for their dream spot and in 2000 believe they found that spot in an abandoned ruin they rebuild, where they farm the land and raise livestock, The first two years they are happy. Their only neighbor is the nearby Rodriguez family, who have lived there all their life and don’t like their new neighbors and stop them from building up the area in 2002. The relationship turns cold and nasty in 2008 and they stop speaking over a conflict of distributing money from a ‘common land’ charter issued by the village for a lumber project in the commonly held pine forest. When Martin took his neighbors to court to receive his rightful payment, they stopped speaking.
Tragedy hits in January 2010, when Martin goes to town for supplies and neither he nor his car ever turn up. The police do an inept search and investigation, and only talk briefly to the logical suspects–the Rodriguez family consisting of the elderly patriarch Manolo, his wife Jovita, and his two grown sons Julio and his mentally challenged brother Carlos.
The mystery is finally cleared-up before the final credits, as after three years Martin’s car and body are found in the pine forest and the police get a confession.
It might not have been much of a crime mystery story, but has punch as a sinister clash of culture story (the educated couple and their uneducated neighbors at odds). We follow through a series of archive footage the earnest and hard-working Margo and Martin through their extreme lifestyle change in their new setting. I found it somewhat sad but poignant that she remains alone in her so-called paradise and bravely tells us this barren place has made her the person she became, which had a chilling effect on me. The filmmakers started interviewing her in 2013, and even lived there for brief periods while filming this curious tale about how people with differences must learn to live with each other before they can build utopias.
REVIEWED ON 12/30/2017 GRADE: B+