Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Film Review: "Bosque De Sombras" ("The Backwoods")

Release date: 19th May 2008 (DVD)
Certificate: 18
Director: Koldo Serra
Stars: Paddy Considine, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Virginie Ledoyen, Gary Oldman
Language: English/Spanish

Bosque De Sombras - released as The Backwoods in the UK - is a film I picked up on the strength of the two male leads coupled with an intriguing concept. Gary Oldman is an actor who has never failed to impress me, and I was so overwhelmed by Paddy Considine's performance in Dead Man's Shoes that I immediately wanted to see more of his work. I am a firm believer in only regretting the things you don't do, and so whilst I don't regret picking up The Backwoods, it has ended up making me slightly more cautious of whim-driven film purchases.

The film tells the story of Norman (Considine) and Lucy (Ledoyen), a couple going through a difficult patch, who in 1978 go out to a remote area of Spain for a holiday with Norman's work friend Paul (Oldman) and his partner Isabel (Sánchez-Gijón). Paul has purchased an abandoned house that used to belong to his grandmother and has been renovating it, which is where the four stay. The couples try to relax, with mixed results. However, after Norman and Paul make a strange discovery in the woods whilst out hunting one morning, an entirely new series of events is set in motion.

The film does well on many counts. Oldman gives an unsurprisingly excellent performance, and Considine too does well, especially as his character Norman begins to come into his own in the latter part of the film. The scenery of the woods is genuinely moody and gives a definite feeling of remoteness (the Spanish title translates literally as "Forest Of Shadows", which is definitely what we get). There are also some excellent shots from director Koldo Serra, who shows on several occasions that he knows what he's doing behind the camera.

However, the film is flawed. Ledoyen and
Sánchez-Gijón often feel wooden, coming across regularly as amateurish against Oldman and Considine. As mentioned before, the two male leads are solid, but even they struggle with the disjointed and at times undeniably flat script. They do their best all the time, but even that isn't enough to breathe life into certain scenes. The story often feels like it doesn't really know where it's going, instead merely bumbling along waiting for something to happen.

I'm all for films not spoon-feeding their audiences and avoiding death by exposition. That said, there are too many parts of the story that simply feel unfinished. We know that Norman and Lucy are having trouble, and there are hints as to why that is, but essentially this left an unsatisfied feeling in me. Paul and Isabel also have moments of tension which again are under-explained. The treatment of the "locals" of the Spanish village often feels somewhat trite, and although they aren't cardboard cutout halfwits, occasionally you get the feeling that they need further development. However, when there is suggestion of further development, such as with the quasi-leader of the villagers Paco, ably played by
Lluis Homar, you are again left dissatisfied. Paco tells Paul more than once that they "need to talk" about the discovery in the woods, but the climax of their relationship will leave you deflated if you were hoping for some revelations.

Ultimately, the film leaves far too much underdeveloped, from the plot to the characters. At just under a hundred minutes the film is surprisingly lacking in pace, and this slow moving style essentially means that not enough happens for you to truly buy into the people you are being shown and the events that they are taking part in. The ending, whilst pleasing in some ways, is an undeniable anticlimax preceded by a series of false finales.

Verdict: I definitely enjoyed The Backwoods. Considering the problems it has in many areas, I'm actually surprised that I enjoyed it quite as much as I did. It's not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it's worth seeing if only to form your own opinion. The script tells an above-average story in an average way; essentially,
Oldman and Considine hold this one together, with support from Homar.


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