Fernando González Molina has made a commendable effort in recreating colonial Africa for his latest film, “Palmeras en la nieve” [Eng. Title: Palm trees in the Snow], a saga encompassing the final years of Spain’s tiny toehold in sub-Saharan Africa (Spanish, now Equatorial Guinea).
The story centers around Kilian (Mario Casas), a young man from Huesca who in 1953, joins his father and brother Jacobo (Alain Hernández) working for a cocoa plantation in a small tropical island named Fernando Poo (Bioko). It is during Jacobo’s funeral in 2003, that his daughter Clarence (Adriana Ugarte) discovers a stash of letters and photographs pointing to a beneficiary still living in the erstwhile colony, and decides to visit the island of Bioko to investigate.
Clarence stumbles upon details of a long-term relationship that her uncle Kilian had with Bisila (Berta Vázquez), an already married native woman. Much of the film dwells on the couple’s passionate affair against the backdrop of the colonisers’ strained relationship with the locals, and their tenuous grip on sections of a populace simmering with discontent and nationalist sentiments.
It wasn’t to be easy for Clarence in Baiko, not helped by the fact that most of the local population have reverted to using African names after Spain vacated (her clues pointed to locals with Spanish names). She befriends local man Iniko (Djedje Apali), falls in love, and will eventually learn to her surprise that he is a rather important relative of Bisila…
The tone of the narrative is vaguely reminiscent of, but not nearly as poetic as La puta y la bellena, with the nesting turtles in place of the whale as the film’s metaphor. It tries to steer clear of controversy, as is often the case in films dealing with colonialism, by depicting its protagonist as just another Spanish employee in the plantation, albeit with perks not available to natives. But there’s no getting away from the fact that they were still part of the colonial system – and I’m not sure if this had anything to do with the fact that the film was shot in various locations except Equatorial Guinea itself. Despite its minor shortcomings, the film nevertheless scores well in its production values, even bagging a couple of Goya Awards this year – altogether, a much better film from director Molina.
The Nudity: Berta Vázquez, and Adriana Ugarte
A stunning and athletic Berta Vázquez – as Bisila, appears nude in at least three scenes with Mario Casas as Kilian (apparently they are off-screen partners too). There is also a scene featuring an as-ever lovely Adriana Ugarte when her character joins Iniko under a waterfall, and they proceed to make love in a secluded beach.