The following entry is en route to its place in my list of the 100 greatest films from Italy, Greece, Spain & Portugal:
Three businessmen go rabbit hunting one day thirty years after being fascist compatriots in the Spanish Civil War. They start bickering from the get-go, kill animals, and end up shooting and killing each other.
With Carlos Saura directing from a brilliant script by himself and Angelino Fons, La Caza revolves around the metaphor of the hunt as a revival of the war from the vantage of Franco’s winners, disconsolate men burdened somehow by the past despite victory. Another of their old group, Arturo, became an embezzler and committed suicide—an act they cannot comprehend; yet doesn’t their new bloodbath comprise their own suicides by proxy? Many shots show trapped animals: caged pet ferrets; a rabbit attacked in its hole by one of the released ferrets; a beetle, in closeup, transported to a wall of rock, where it’s shot to smithereens. But the hunters themselves are trapped in that earlier time, when they hunted Loyalists instead of rabbits, and they can’t escape. One has brought along his brother-in-law, Enrique, who is way too young to have fought in the war; but he, too, it turns out, chokes on the symbolic noxious fumes that are the result of the war’s tragic outcome. Sardonically, Saura traps him in a conclusive freeze frame in mid-flight from the scene of carnage.
In one of the close mines a skeleton resides—as one of the hunters explains, a likely veteran of the war. Are any of these men really alive, or do they creep like guilty things in the shadow of blood they long ago shed? The infected rabbits symbolize the sick Spain that the war’s outcome consolidated. The desolate black-and-white landscape: the radio’s rock ’n’ roll desecrates this hallowed ground.
Enrique is warned: “Be careful. Aim at the rabbits.”
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