The Night Of The Sunflowers Review
A thriller set in a remote village, The Night Of The Sunflowers (La Noche De Las Girasoles) is not a character study by any means, but the impressive debut feature from Spanish director Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo ambitiously draws on all the character traits of a small community – its isolation from the world, long built-up rivalries and ago-old resentments, betrayals, fears, infidelities, ambitions – all of which are violently brought out into the open by the arrival in the area of outsiders who set off a spiralling and horrific series of events.
Things look promising for the little rural village of Angosto, when one of the inhabitants discovers a prehistoric network of caves in the area. Similar finds have led to increased tourism and prosperity for other villages and the townspeople are keen to explore the possibilities, calling in a team of geologists to investigate them. However, while waiting on the team to resurface, the fiancée of one of the geologists is attacked by a man passing through the area in an attempted rape. In the confusion of what has happened, events spiral quickly out of control, forcing the local authorities to make some pragmatic rather than strictly lawful decisions.
The similarities with Twin Peaks or Memories of Murder are evident in the small community setting with its eccentric characters and its incompetent law forces, and the exposure of affairs and other sordid details brought to light by an unknown assailant at large in the normally quiet region, but the resemblance ends there. First-time director Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo has a unique sense of structure, approaching the story from an oblique angle (and ending on the same note) and then exploring the central situation from a number of diverse perspectives, skipping back and forth in time towards the central incident and the events leading up to it. It’s ambitious and it largely succeeds, allowing a large cast of characters to be fully developed without any unnecessary digression, but it does tend to over-extend the running time of the film.
Even more than being impressive just for its compelling sense of structure and the excellent acting performances, is the moral ambiguity and almost reversal of expectations played on throughout in what might otherwise be a conventional suspense thriller. On the one hand the fame and riches sought after by the town from the discovery of their caves is contrasted with the notoriety of the location for the rape and murder of a young girl, but roles and types are also cleverly reversed, leaving the viewer with a great deal of difficulty in knowing who they should really be sympathising with. It’s to the credit of the film and the bravery of the first-time director that Night Of The Sunflowers doesn’t bottle-out, but sustains this moral ambiguity right through to its deeply downbeat ending.