Los Santos Inocentes
Los Santos Inocentes is a Spanish movie directed by Mario Camus in 1984. The film has been widely praised for its extremely realistic depiction of life for the lower classes in the poor Spanish region of Extremadura under the Franco regime. Despite being a little known film abroad, this is one of the most powerful dictatorship films around, and is well worth watching. The film is based on the novel Los Santos Inocentes written by Miguel Delibes in 1981.
Los Santos Inocentes is set in the 1960s but feels much more like it was set in medieval times due to the ancient way in which the main characters live and work. The film tells the tale of a poor family of farmers - Paco, his wife Regula and their children - who are tenants of the upper class land owner Señor Ivan.
Señor Ivan shows no real regard for the welfare of the family and takes full advantage of their services, using them almost like slaves. He refuses to let the younger children go to school as he says that he needs them to work on the farm. He often uses them like hunting dogs, forcing them to fetch the prey that he has just killed. In one case, Señor Ivan shows true cruelty by making one of the family members fetch despite having a broken leg. Even when people from the outside come to visit and criticize the master for his poor treatment of the family, he puts on a big display of showing that his peasants are content, and that they can even write their own names (but only because they have just been taught how to).
To add to the family's woes, Regula's brother is fired from his job and ends up living with the family; as he is in a delicate mental condition it adds an edge to the story, especially as Señor Ivan is clearly not in a secure mental state himself; ironically, Regula's brother may be the only person who can understand Ivan. However, the world is changing everyday, and even the most subservient peasants may reach their limits.
Reception and Legacy
The film has been celebrated as a very well produced representation of the original novel, and more importantly, a very raw depiction of life in Spain during this time. Both of these great works have been described as paying homage to the stories of millions of Spaniards who were suppressed by the upper class land owners who supported Franco; stories that before these pieces had barely been addressed.
The main themes of Los Santos Inocentes deal with oppression on the part of land owners of the period; the disrespect and lack of care for their workers; the humiliations that those workers suffered everyday; the lack of culture in the low Spanish classes of the time; the resignation of the members of these lower classes in accepting their conditions, considering themselves as lesser beings.
Technically, this film is also quite interesting. Despite being filmed in the mid 1980s, Camus decided to film Los Santos Inocentes in a muted, gray tone which reminds us of some of the darker paintings of Francisco Goya. This gives the movie a melancholy tone that is fit for the subject.
As we mentioned earlier, the film feels more like it is set in the medieval period, with the feudal and slavery like system operated by the land owner Señor Ivan. The only clue that brings the film into its context is the arrival of a car from the 1960s period. This effect makes us understand the hardships that such families faced in the rural parts of Spain, up until very recently.
In terms of the recognition that the film received, Los Santos Inocentes actually won a number of prizes. Both Alfredo Landa and Francisco Rabal won the Cannes Film Festival Prize for Best Actor, while the film was given a Special Mention at the festival as well. Rabal was also awarded the Fotograma de Plata for Best Film Actor in 1984. Furthermore, the film was named as the Best Film by the Circle of Film Writers as well as voted as being the 8th best Spanish film by a jury of professionals and film critics in 1996 to mark the centenary of Spanish cinema.