La Caza [ES 1966]

International title: The Hunt

THE PLOT

Three old friends reunite for a hunting trip on the countryside. Paco is a successful business owner who also brings his teenage son Enrique. Jose had been wealthy in the past, but after a costly divorce from his wife, he has been stuck in a midlife crisis. Luis is financially dependent on Jose, but is more interested in reading science fiction stories and drinking alcohol, than actual hunting. The men stay at Jose’s ranch, where they fight over their many conflicting views and in the summer heat and desert-like surroundings, their behavior becomes increasingly erratic – until a tragedy happens.

WHAT I LIKE

The cinematography is raw, gritty, and gives the movie a claustrophobic atmosphere. For many hectic shots, e.g. during the hunt or when the men prepare their weapons, a handheld camera is used for close-ups. Seeing the men shouting, shooting, and sweating up close, makes their performances authentic and thrilling. From a cinematic perspective, the two hunt sequences are genuinely impressive in setting a dramatic tone for the rest of the movie. The framing is wonderful, especially in the large fields and at the camp site and through great scene blocking, the viewers always have a clear idea of what goes on. A bold move that really pays off are the central shots, when the characters directly talk into the camera, e.g. when Jose begs Paco for money or when the men discuss hunting animals. These moments feel intense and the down-to-earth performances make them exciting to watch, as they pull the viewers into the scene.

Also, how the characters’ background is introduced is unconventional: The respective characters comment other people’s behavior or ramble about past mistakes through voice-overs. This way, critical aspects of the characters’ past (e.g., Jose’s divorce or the men’s connection to Arturo) are only introduced bit by bit. In the context of the dramatic escalation, this works great in keeping the viewers engaged in the characters. Lastly, the soundtrack is great with fantastic classic Spanish rock songs at the campsite and a creeping simplistic piano score during the hunt sequences.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

In its most infamous scenes, namely the rabbit hunt, the movie overtly depicts violence against animals. Multiple times rabbits are shot in front of the camera, hunted by a dog or otherwise hurt (e.g., skinned or mutilated). These scenes clearly depict animal abuse and although one could argue that the crassness of these sequences portrays the characters’ brutality and ruthlessness, many shots are gratuitous and might be disturbing for some. In addition the conflict between the three men could have been explored more thoroughly: Jose’s breakdown and Luis’ sudden hostility towards him at the end come a bit surprising. Here, the writing could have focused even more on Jose’s motivations, and Luis’ character traits, especially because the latter remains rather colorless compared to his friends.

THE VERDICT

La Caza is a drama about three aging friends reuniting for hunting rabbits. The heat and talking about past mistakes make the men increasingly aggressive, until a catastrophe happens. The characters’ backstories are told in an unconventional way and because of the wonderful cinematography the movie succeeds in presenting believable characters on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Although the hunt sequences overtly depict violence against animals and could have easily been toned down, the dramatic escalation is well-written, and the conflict between the men feels authentic.

Overall 8/10

INTERESTING FACTS

– In the latter half of the movie, Luis quotes Ernest Hemingway: “What is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after” – although he quotes the German translation. It’s from Hemingway’s 1932 non-fiction book “Death in the Afternoon”, in which he discusses bullfighting in Spanish-speaking countries.

– The director, Carlos Sauro, came up with the idea for La Caza after searching a place to shoot Cordoba (Llanto por un bandido) [1964]. The desert-like environment gave him the idea of a rabbit hunt. Shooting took place in August 1964 during a period of 4 weeks near the Spanish cities Seseña, Esquivias, and Aranjuez.

– Sauro is considered one of the main examples of the New Spanish Cinema, a movement during the 1960s and 1970s primarily influenced by politically left artists who openly criticized the Franco regime.

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