Saturday, 17 February 2018

Los Inocentes (2015)

Here is a curiosity - a Latin American film that is not only a supernatural chiller but also addresses the truly horrifying history of slavery. Los Inocentes (rather confusingly titled The Innocents in English) is set in Argentina in the 19th century. It is visually quite sumptuous - director and co-writer Mauricio Brunetti adopts a Merchant-Ivory approach to the setting, a farming estate called Mercedaria. But he also makes clear that there is no need to even scratch the surface to see the violence and fear that must always form the basis of a slave economy.

Mercedaria is owned by Guiraldes, played by the excellent veteran actor Lito Cruz. The man epitomises the brutal slave owner, raping the women and hanging a black boy, Amuda, who has unwisely befriended his disabled son, Rodrigo. Guiraldes wife is apparently a more sympathetic character. But as the story unfolds it becomes clear that she, too, capable of horrific cruelty.

The story unfolds in flashbacks, with the main action set in 1871, and the incidents that lead to the haunting taking place 15 years earlier. Put-upon Rodrigo returns to the family home with his new wife, Bianca, to try and reconcile himself to his parents. He finds his father as vile as ever, his mother apparently insane. The slaves are gone, apart from some household servants. The farm prospers, whereas when Rodrigo was sent away to school it was suffering from terrible drought. What lies behind, or beneath, these changes?

Some fairly conventional ghost story tricks and jumps occur, but with the Jamesian 'detective story' aspect. Why is the decent Bianca apparently being targeted when she loathes Guiraldes? What drove Rodrigo's mother mad? Where are the slaves? The action - leisurely at first, albeit studded with brutal outbursts - speeds up until the finale, which sees the ruin of all Guiraldes aspirations. The innocent must suffer, as the title implies, because blood calls for blood. And there is a fair amount of blood, one way and another.

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