by Allan Fish
(Spain 1965 87m) DVD2 (Spain only, no Eng subs)
Aka. La Caza
Run, rabbit, run, rabbit…
p Elias Querejeta d Carlos Saura w Carlos Saura, Angelino Fons ph Luis Cuadrado ed Pablo G.del Amo m Luis de Pablo art Carlos Ochoa
Ismael Merlo (José), Alfredo Mayo (Paco), José Maria Prada (Luis), Fernando Sanchez Polack (Juan), Violeta Garcia (Carmen), Emilio Giuterrez Caba (Enrique), Mariá Sanchez Aroca (Juan’s mother),
There were few more repressive atmospheres for movie-makers than that of Franco’s Spain. From the thirties through to his death in the seventies, one could count on the fingers of one hand the major films made in Spain during that period. It now seems almost unthinkable that a nation that currently offers such directors as Almodóvar, Medem, Luña and Aménabar could have once been such a barren desert of cinematic virtuosity. And that analogy is not idly chosen, for it was in a very real, physical barren desert that one of the few genuinely great Spanish films of the era was set.
José and Luis are business partners whose professional relationship is waning and whose marriages are likewise in stormy waters. They invite an old friend, Paco, who they haven’t seen for years and who has become somewhat more successful, to a holiday in the Toledo Desert hunting rabbits. Once there they realise that what once held them together now keeps them apart, and their individual petty jealousies and insecurities come to the fore as the heat turns them slowly but surely into killing machines, a feeling intensified by the location, where they had once been killing machines in another cause, The Civil War.
Of all the directors who helped form the modern Spanish cinema, Carlos Saura is perhaps the most revered, and this is unquestionably his greatest film, one for which he won a deserved Best Director award at Berlin. It’s not a film to watch casually, indeed it’s a film that to many will be unwatchable. The central set-piece in particular is very hard to stomach, as we watch wave upon wave of rabbits hop to their very real demise. The finality of their last moments on earth, purely as the sport of men who act like aggressive overgrown children, is extremely hard viewing, made even harder by the death cries of the said creatures as they are torn to bits by dogs or ferrets. This is not killing for food, but killing for pleasure, as witnessed in a couple of instances of them killing passing insects for their amusement. Driven on by booze, guns, the soaring temperatures and the hip-swinging teenage girl who partly accompanies them, their bloodlust seems unquenchable, so much so that it makes the still shocking denouement seem all the more inevitable. After finally running out of creatures to kill, their various insecurities and inadequacies make them turn on each other, with horrific results.
The Hunt is in every way a savage condemnation of man’s inherent passion for destruction, a statement on how our nature can return to its basest level when called for. “It’s hotter than hell” one of the group cries out at one point, and sure enough it is a sort of hell, populated by the sort of venal, self-seeking individuals who would not be out of place operating torture devices in Satan’s inner sanctum. One feels the heat through the imagery of Luis Cuadrado, which captures the psychological impact of such oppressive temperatures on the human psyche. All the performances are suitably nasty, each of the characters – the girl aside – truly loathsome. Saura dares one to hate not just the characters, but rather to hate oneself, as it could just as easily be read as a condemnation of man’s treatment not just of his fellow creatures but of his own soul and the Earth itself – after all, it’s the Civil War, and the psychological damage caused thereby, that reduced these men to such a low level. In the words of Time Out, “seldom has a film been informed with such crystal hatred for its characters.” And not just them, but mankind in general, for if one was asked to define the very word ‘animal’, one would be hard pressed to choose anything over man, the cruellest of all lifeforms.