Palm Trees in the Snow (2015)

Directed By: Fernando Gonzalez Molina

Written By: Sergio G. Sanchez

Based on: Palmeras en la nieve by Luz Gabas


Mario Casas – Killian

Adriana Ugarte – Clarence

Berta Vazquez – Bisila

Macarena Garcia – Julia

Alain Hernandez – Jacobo

Djedje Apali – Iniko

Laia Costa – Daniela

Language: Spanish                                                                

Genre: Romance; Drama; Violence

Palm Trees in the Snow is a 2015 Spanish feature film. With a backdrop of Equatorial Guinea during colonial times and the present, it follows a young woman’s search for her family’s story when they lived in Bioko, while working for the Spanish colonial enterprise. Going back and forth in time, it depicts Clarence’s (Adriana Ugarte) journey and the story of Killian (Mario Casas) and Bisila (Berta Vazquez).

Clarence is at the family estate for her father Jacobo’s funeral. With her uncle Killian suffering from dementia and her cousin Daniela (Laia Costa) taking care of him, it is left to her to sort through the family papers since they are considering selling off the family land.

In the course of looking through the papers, Clarence comes across a part of a letter that mentions a woman and child in Bioko who were receiving regular payments from her uncle. Considering the recent loss, Clarence decides to travel to Bioko to look for the people mentioned in the letter, and if they be relatives to bring them back.

The story then switches to the past, when Killian first joined his father Anton and his brother Jacobo (Alain Hernandez) at the colonial company. Naïve and idealistic, he is fascinated by everything around him but also quickly finds himself out of his depth.

Since the colonial machinery functions on violence and power, his soft attitude would be entirely useless and some in the company feel he needs to be remoulded. In fact, one of the overseers, Gregorio places a snake in Killian’s room and makes it so that one of the workers is suspected. The intention is to goad Killian into becoming a proper ‘Massa’ (master) – one who is unafraid of whipping the slaves when required. Killian does whip the slave but on realising what actually happened, he punches Gregorio. But the deed is done, and like it or not Killian gave into the idea that slaves can be whipped as punishment.

Most colonial narratives, in keeping with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, make it seem like it is the colony’s fault that the white man becomes cruel and rapacious. However, here it is clear that it is the white man’s fear that he would be unable to maintain power unless he exercises it violently. The film, thus, does not shy away from displaying human brutality.

Killian and Bisila’s relationship is beautifully portrayed. It is obvious that they are besotted with each other and even if race comes to play in every other matter of their lives, it doesn’t colour their relationship. However, one has to wonder at her portrayal in the narrative, does it present something new about a character of colour or does it follow the general pattern? In fact, many characters of colour are reduced to physical roles and not roles of articulation.

The story also discusses the changing political landscape of Equatorial Guinea. In Killian and Bisila’s narrative there is the fight for independence from the colonial regime. Their move towards autonomy in many ways means violence against the colonial power structures. When Clarence goes to Bioko, it looks at a postcolonial space that rejects and is rather suspicious of the entry of the foreigner.

The film is realistic in its portrayal of power relations, in that the white man has authority over the plantation workers but is in many ways subjected to the rules of the colonial enterprise. Within the white system, he or she may actually access very little power. On the other hand, the workers may have positions of power in their traditional systems and yet be subservient to the white man. In this, there is an interesting character Simon, who is Killian’s houseboy and the future head of his village. When Clarence meets him, he refuses to speak the ‘colonial tongue’ because that’s an identity he has rejected. All in all, Palm Trees in the Snow much like the title looks at the dichotomies created in peoples’ lives through the brutality of colonialism.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) #SherylPuthur


Directed By: Juan Jose Campanella

Written By: Eduardo Sacheri; Juan Jose Campanella


Ricardo Darin – Benjamin Esposito

Soledad Villamil – Irene Hastings

Pablo Rago – Ricardo Morales

Javier Godino – Isidoro Gomez

Guillermo Francella – Pablo Sandoval

Mariano Argento – Romano

Carla Quevedo – Liliana Coloto

Language: Spanish                                                     Genre: Crime Thriller


To see The Secret in Their Eyes as only a crime thriller would be limiting and hence it would be hard to justify the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. To say it was about loss, regret, guilt and most definitely love would come closer to the truth.

The film starts off with a man writing out a story. He is visualising his scene with painstaking detail. It is an ordinary breakfast vividly described because it is the last breakfast Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) and Liliana Coloto (Carla Quevedo) shared before she was found raped and murdered. And he is unable to write it.

We then realise, the writer is Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), a retired investigator and that this was a cold case that stayed with him at the end of his career. The irony is, he is trying to play the omniscient narrator of events that he is not entirely sure how they unfolded. Plus, it is a series of events in which he played a decisive role, so there is no objectivity despite the distance in time.

He approaches the judge who worked on the case with him, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil) to discuss his doubts, the subtle melancholia (writers are very lonely people) and his troubles writing. She advises him to start either with the memory he recalls most vividly, since this was 20 years ago or to start at the very beginning.

Largely, the film comes to us in flashbacks and there is a hint of something more than a brutal homicide that drew Esposito to write about that case, especially when we see that the ‘vivid memory’ for him was not Lilana Coloto’s brutalised body but meeting Irene Hastings for the first time. So the film does talk about how memories are much more vivid because we recall minute details as compared to the present, that seems rather plain. The colour palette of sequences in the past are brighter, pointing to the vividness of the memory.

The beauty of the film is that it does not let you dwell on those moments of shock, despair, revulsion because life is made of varied moments so that you could be having a terribly boring day and then walk into a disturbing homicide. And just when it seems that your whole day is marred by that moment, you meet that person you have a soft corner for and everything darker gets blunted.

The film is not a whodunit. Esposito, Sandoval and Hastings know the murderer and have the confession. It is a question of justice being meted out. It is about regret because Esposito revisits this ‘event’ in his life because he knows what Morales did to keep his wife’s memory alive and to see she received justice. But he, on the other hand gave up on the woman he loved, too easily.

And if the film is about the unpredictability of life, then the penultimate moment of the film will throw you off because of what it reveals about the human psyche.