And they end up being as attention-gathering as only a Julio Medem can manage (apart from Bigas Luna, of course). While the bulls and cows in his latest drama, “El árbol de la sangre” [Eng. Title: The Tree of Blood] might bear special cultural significance to Spaniards, others with a lesser acquaintance will nevertheless discern the passionate undercurrents these creatures will come to represent in this pheromone-fuelled family saga.
Rebeca (Úrsula Corberó) and boyfriend Marc (Álvaro Cervantes) are staying at his stepmother’s idyllic farmhouse in the Basque country to try and piece together their extraordinary family tree, while opening up to and coming to terms with secrets and betrayals within their own relationship. They begin by recounting the early lives of their respective mothers.
Rebeca is the child of Macarena (the beautiful Najwa Nimri), conceived during her mother’s wild rock star years. As a baby, Rebeca had to undergo life-saving organ transplants that’ll deeply affect Macarena for the rest of her life. When one of Macarena’s fans, Victor (Daniel Gra0), expresses his love for her, she decides to get married and settle down, and Victor eases into the role of Rebeca’s doting stepdad.
Marc’s single mother Nuria (Maria Molins) is a publisher who befriends and has a fling with writer Amaia (Patricia López Arnaiz). Young Marc first set his eyes on Rebeca at Amaia’s wedding; the groom being Victor’s brother Olmo (Joaquín Furriel). When Amaia introduces Olmo to Nuria, she recognises him instantly as the person with whom she had a brief sexual encounter that led to Marc’s birth. As the complex relationships within this coincidental family take shape, murkier details of the brothers before they entered Rebeca and Marc’s lives come to the fore, with unforeseen consequences…
Even with a long run-time of 135 minutes, the narrative is pretty fast-paced; blink and you’ll likely miss a plot point, so this might require more than one viewing. As a keen follower of maestro Medem’s films, I find this screenplay his most ambitious and convoluted yet; instead of neat patterns exemplified in Lovers of the Arctic Circle and Sex and Lucia, we have strands that twist, branch off, and occasionally intertwine.
And then we have the pervasive symbolism of bulls and cows as facets of conflicting but coexisting qualities between the various characters; be it moral, political, or sexual. They make an appearance in unexpected places, which might be off-putting to those used to more ‘plausible’ story lines, but they’re there for a purpose. As in many of Medem’s films, sex is an important ingredient that drives the narrative.
Several of his trademark motifs that depict elementary forces also make an appearance in the film. Right from the exquisite cinematography, background score, choice of shots and editing, we see glimpses of the vintage Julio Medem that we love and miss. If only he could make films more frequently! Performance-wise, the slightly under-used Najwa Nimri, and an ever-elegant Angela Molina playing the brothers’ mother stand out, and the rest of main cast give a decent account of themselves. On the whole, while this adequate Netflix production might not have scaled the heights of gems such as Tierra and La ardilla roja, it is still a full-blooded Medem in all respects, which on any day is Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Lucía Delgado, Joaquín Furriel, Patricia López Arnaiz, Maria Molins, Úrsula Corberó, and Álvaro Cervantes