El Destierro (The Exile), directed by Arturo Ruiz, is a Spanish war drama that opened the 5th Annual Evolution! Mallorca International Film Festival (November 3-12). Despite and intriguing premise and solid performances, it ends up being a patchy, plodding movie with just a few good ideas and moments here and there.
Silverio (Eric Francés) and Teo (Joan Carles Suau) are two Spanish soldiers in charge of guarding a small outpost during wartime in the middle of nowhere. One day, they discover a wounded enemy soldier – a young Polish woman (Monika Kowalska). While they nurse her back to health, they must decide whether or not they’ll turn her in to their superiors.
El Destierro starts off on the wrong foot by making both soldiers come across as very unlikable. Over time, they become more interesting and complex – undeniably flawed, but in a way that earns more sympathy than disdain. The movie attempts to give the young woman, Zoska, some agency in this situation, but it’s pretty superfluous – as a character, she is defined by her relationships with either of the two men.
Granted, she is technically their prisoner, but this has less to do with the power dynamics then it has to do with narrative agency. It’s the two soldiers that have more character development and more presence in the story and the frame. For a movie about three people, it feels more like it’s about two and a half. One of the final scenes perhaps best embodies this problem – a key decision about the fate of the group is made when Teo looks to Silverio and the latter nods to show his support. Zoska, while present, has no input on it whatsoever even though it’s later revealed she had a very personal stake in it.
The setup – an isolated bunker during wartime – is solid and El Destierro might have worked a lot better if it focused on any pair of characters from its cast, rather than all three at once. The three-way split in focus and the short runtime make it difficult not just to give everyone equal footing, but also to really flesh them out as characters. Zoska gets the worst of it, but all of them would have benefited from more development.
It’s not a bad movie and it certainly has the makings of a really good one, but it never really takes off. The cinematography is stark, yet captivating. The score is decent, if overbearing at times. Apart from a few plotholes and dumb moments early on (Teo is adamant about turning Zoska in at first but doesn’t even attempt to do so when given the perfect opportunity) there’s very little that’s outright bad about El Destierro. Unfortunately, there’s not much, if anything that’s particularly memorable about it either.
Dir: Arturo Ruiz
Scr: Arturo Ruiz
Cast: Eric Francés, Joan Carles Suau, Monika Kowalska
Runtime: 90 min