Anticipating Theo Angelopoulos’ The Hunters in its allegorical dissection of a dysfunctional, polarized, contemporary society engendered by the incestuous and repressive, right-wing regime, Carlos Saura’s taut and subversive magnum opus, The Hunt is a harrowing and potent exposition into the pervasive moral corruption that has surfaced under a corrosive combination of Franco-era class entrenchment and bourgeois entitlement, and a collective consciousness deeply ingrained by an endemic culture of machismo and violence. A seemingly unassuming hunting excursion on a sweltering, summer day that has been arranged by middle-aged aristocrat, Don José (Ismael Merlo) sets the stage for Saura’s fiercely uncompromising indictment of the country’s inexorable path towards self-destruction in the wake of its own rigid and inhumane ideology. Hosting a rabbit hunt for his longtime (if largely estranged) friends, the recently divorced Luis (José María Prada) and self-made businessman, Paco (Alfredo Mayo) – former Nationalist soldiers who, coincidentally, once fought the Loyalists during the Civil War in the same parched and desolate terrain that is now their hunting grounds – José’s nebulous motivation for arranging such an idyllic outing is intimated through vague, private conversations between business partners José and Luis that allude to their mutual interest in gaining Paco’s favor, as well as through conversations between the skeptical Paco and his young brother-in-law and protégé, Enrique (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) who immediately suspect an ulterior, financial motive behind their host’s unexpected, generous invitation. Chronicling the quartet’s idyllic summer outing as the exhilaration of the free range morning hunt invariably gives way to the restlessness of idle waiting, alcohol consumption, exploration, and target practice as José’s dutiful games keeper, Juan (Fernando Sánchez Polack) prepares his pet ferret to enter a rabbit’s lair for another round of hunting, Saura’s austere and clinical gaze – a visual aesthetic that is also reinforced in the film’s high contrast black and white photography – inevitably transforms from the role of social observer to behaviorist as the hunters’ own cultivated habits of desperate, economic (and social) self-preservation are refracted through the scampering rabbits’ own traumatized (and often, fatally predictable), instinctual behaviors for survival against the confused brutality of the hunt. The implicit correlation between the hunters and the hunted – an integral sameness that alludes to the superficiality of an artificially imposed hierarchical order – is also manifested through Paco’s pathological aversion towards the crippled Juan (who may have sustained the injury by stepping into one of the many rabbit traps that riddle the area) that is subsequently echoed in his underlying obsession with a myxomatosis epidemic among the hunted rabbits (an intolerance for weakness that is further reinforced in his presumption that Juan has eaten the infected rabbits). Illustrated though the rampant contagion that has ravaged the rabbit population, Saura paints a provocative and harrowing allegory for the cultural death of post Civil War, Franco-era Spain, not through the imposed violence of systematic extermination, but rather, through the implosive, decadent intoxication of self-inflicted, arbitrary privilege.
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