Vacas (Cows) (1991)



Director:  Julio Medeum.

Starring:  Emma Surez (Cristina), Carmelo Gmez (Manuel, Ignacio and Peru Irigibel), Ana Torrent (Catalina), Karra Elejalde (Ilegorri/Lucas), Klara Badiola (Madalen), Txema Blasco (Manuel), Kandido Uranga (Carmelo/Juan), Pilar Bardem (Paulina), Miguel ngel Garca (Peru as a child), Ane Snchez (Cristina as a child), Magdalena Mikolajczyk (Daughter as a child), Enara Azkue (Daughter as a child), Ortzi Balda (Ilegorri/Lucas as a child), Elisabeth Ruiz (Old Daughter), Ramn Barea (Juez).

Country:  Spanish film.

Awards:  the film won the 1993 Goya Award for Best New Director.

The film follows the lives of two Basque families from 1875 to 1936, from the Third Carlist War to the Spanish Civil War.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Front trenches of the Basque forces, Biscay.  A young Basque boy named Ilegorri runs errands for the Carlist forces.  Carmelo tries to help Manuel, his neighbor from back home, calm himself enough to fire his weapon.  He helps Manuel sight his weapon and then tells him to hurry up before they themselves are killed.  Just as he finishes saying this, Carmelo is shot and falls backward to the bottom of the trench.  Manuel is even more frightened now and he falls back simulating being hit and lays at the bottom of the trench.  Manuel lies next to him dying as blood flows steadily from a wound to his neck.  Manuel dips his fingers into the wound and smears the blood on his own face. 

The Carlist forces are defeated and the enemy is now putting the Carlist corpses from the trench into a wagon cart.  Still pretending he is dead, Manuel's body is placed near the cart.  The cart rolls forward crushing Manuel's left knee.  He is then placed into the cart.  As the wagon rolls down the road to the burial place, Manuel is able to crawl over the bodies to let himself down onto the road from the rear of the cart.  A cow slowly comes up to him. 

30 years later.  There are now bitter feelings between the Carmelo family and the Manuel family.  Carmelo's family calls Manuel a coward, saying that Manuel was responsible for the death of Carmelo in the Third Carlist War.  Carmelo's family consists only of Carmelo's widow, his son Juan and his sister Catalina.  In Manuel's family is Manuel himself, his son Ignacio, his daughter-in-law, and Ignacio's daughters, among them Cristina.  (Ignacio from Manuel's family and Cristina from Carmelo's family obviously like each other very much.)

Manuel is still crippled from his war wound inflicted by the burial cart.  He now spends his time painting pictures of cows and he sometimes includes his grandchildren in the paintings.   Ilegorri, now all grown up from the days when he ran errands for the Basque soldiers, comes to the Manuel farm to ask Ignacio about having a wood chopping contest between Juan and himself.  The prize will be 700 reales.  Ignacio agrees to the contest. 

The contest is to see who can cut in half ten tree trunks the fastest.  The neighbors were not invited but they watch from the top of the hill and place bets on who will win.  Ignacio wins the contest.  Juan is angry at his loss and refuses to shake hands with Ignacio after the contest.  At a later date, Ignacio will compete with another man by the name of Soraluze. 

After defeating Soraluze, Ignacio returns with a prize cow and a horse.  Juan is so angry at the good fortune of Ignacio that one day when he hears Ignacio cutting wood in the woods  between the two farmsteads, he throws his axe into the woods in the direction of the sound.  Cristina is afraid that the axe may have hit Ignacio because the sound of his axe immediately stopped after her brother threw his axe into the woods.  She runs into Ignacio in the middle of the woods and falls backwards thinking he had hit her with his axe.  No, it was just close.   Lying on the ground, they then have sex.

Manuel and his granddaughter Cristina build a revolving scarecrow who carries a scythe as if her were a farm worker cutting the hay.  He has Cristina hold the scarecrow but warns her to be very careful when she lets it go because it is very dangerous.  (Grandfather seems to be losing his senses to put his granddaughter is such danger.) 

Ten years later.  Spring of 1915.  The prize cow gives birth to a calf on the Manuel farm.  Catalina has a young son named Peru with her, the son she had with Ignacio.  (Cristina and Peru are in love with one another.)  It is clear that there is strain between Ignacio and his wife, no doubt because of the birth of his son by Catalina.  Ignacio still competes and is now famous.  Some photographers come out to take his picture.  Sometimes in the photos they include Manuel, who was also a champion wood chopper.

Catalina meets Ignacio very late at night.  She tells him that she wants to get away from her brother who she says is now completely crazy.  She wants Ignacio to taker her and their son Peru to America.  (World War I rages in Europe.)  While she is away, Juan harasses Peru in his bed (possible suggestion of sexual abuse?).  When Catalina returns to bed, Juan tries to force her to have sex with him.  He starts choking her saying that he is her brother and he is not going to kill her.  Catalina manages to get away from him. 

Manuel paints a picture of their prize cow, but without its lower legs.  Peru asks about it, but Manuel says nothing. 

Ignacio's prize cow becomes very sick.  Peru and Cristina pick some poison mushrooms to feed to the cow to help it die.  Late at night, with an axe Manuel cuts off the bottom of the legs of the cow.  The cow gives out some really loud bleats.  Manuel's daughter-in-law comes in and sees what he has done.  She starts hitting him and screaming that she cannot stand him any more.  Cristina intervenes to calm her mother down.  She tells her mother that grandfather is crazy.  Manuel says that the bleating is a sign of dignity before dying (as in "do not go gently into that good night"?).  Manuel and Cristina take the hooves and place them part way into the ground in a circle around a scarecrow.  They cannot eat the meat of the cow since it was infected.  Manuel cuts up the cow and he and Cristina then put the rest of the cow's flesh into the woods. 

Peru wakes up and finds his mother's bed empty.  He starts suspecting foul play from Juan.  He looks around for her and then asks Juan what he did with her.  He replies that he has not seen his mother.  Then Peru starts repeatedly shouting toward the Manuel homestead: "My uncle has killed my mother".   Juan chases after Peru to shut him up, but Peru runs into the woods.  He finds the bloody cow flesh cut in pieces hanging on the vegetation and fears that it is the flesh of his mother.  Just then Juan grabs him.  Manuel and Cristina show up.  They tell Juan that the flesh is not from his mother, but from their prize cow that had just recently died.  Just then Ilegorri arrives to tell Peru to come with him because his mother has left their home and she has now sent for him.  As he leaves, Peru shouts to Cristina that he will write her. 

Years later.  Cristina gets a letter from Peru in which he says he is a photo journalist now in America and that he has married a red-headed woman who will soon give birth to their daughter or son.  Cristina writes back to tell Peru that she has a boy friend, Ilegorri's red-headed son Lucas.  Peru also writes that he will be coming to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, in which the Basques supported the republican side and opposed General Franco. 

Summer 1936.  While Cristina walks in the woods she runs abruptly into Peru holding his camera.  She is very surprised to see him in their old woods.  Cristina tells him that her grandfather has died and his uncle has joined the forces backing General Franco.  Peru tells Cristina that he now has a baby girl. Peru stays in the loft overnight. 

The next day Cristina rouses Peru from his bed.  She tells him that the nationalist troops (supporting Franco) are in the town.  A little later they get news to run into the woods in order to escape Franco's soldiers.  Most of the villagers head into the woods.  Cristina and Peru walk in the woods and hold hands.  Peru quickly drops her hand when he sees Lucas and other armed villagers coming their way.  Lucas is anxious for a fight with the nationalists.  Soon he gets his wish as the nationalists start shooting at them.  In the skirmish a number of people are killed.  Lucas is killed and falls on the ground next to the hiding Cristina.  Cristina runs away and Peru runs after her.  He catches her and forces her to the ground with him so they won't be killed .  But a woman nationalist soldier has seen Peru and she demands that he come out from his hiding place.  Peru comes out and is taken to the temporary nationalist headquarters in the wood.  It looks as though Peru may be shot, because the nationalists don't seem to care about his declarations that he is an American journalist sent there on assignment.   Peru keeps talking and starts to walk away.  But he is stopped by one of the officers.  It is then that Peru sees his uncle Juan dressed in a nationalist uniform.  As the officer sends Peru away with two soldiers, Juan sees Peru.  Juan follows the three men.

Peru is taken to what is obviously a firing squad and is placed in the death line.  The nationalist soldiers are about to fire when Juan intervenes.  He tells the soldiers that Peru is a Carlist, at which they laugh.  But Juan is persistent and points his rifle at them.  So they shoot everyone on the execution line except Peru.  Peru leaves without saying anything to Juan. 

Peru meets up with Cristina.  Each is glad that the other is still alive.  Cristina wants to leave Spain.  She asks Peru if France is at war and he answers no.  She now wants Peru to go with her by horseback to France.  (The horse is nearby, freed when Lucas killed its nationalist rider.)  Promising everlasting love for each other, they both get on the back of the horse and leave. 


Good movie.  It definitely kept my interest.  Nice love story set in Basque and Spanish history.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1871  --  King Amadeo I of Spain crowned.  He was not very popular.

1872-1876  --  the front in the Third  and last Carlist War, 1875.  The Basque soldiers are on the side of the Carlists who supported absolute monarchy, but also advocated autonomy for the Basque region.  The Carlist pretender to the throne, Carlos VII, was the grandson of Carlos V.  The Carlists occupied some cities in Spain's interior, most notably in Navarre. 

1876 (27 February)  --  after four years of war, the pretender Carlos VII had to cross the border to France. 

1936-1939  --  Spanish civil war between the forces backing the Republican government and the fascist General Franco and his forces.

1939  --  Franco wins and the buddy of Hitler and Mussolini becomes dictator of Spain. 




Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)