Santoalla full movie review - Documentary looking at a real-life mystery
Dutch couple, Martin and Margo, give up their urban lives, sell their homes, buy a camper van and travel Europe in search of a place to live a simpler life.
They eventually discover their goal in the tiny and remote village of Santoalla in rural Galicia, a place which is in an advanced state of ruination. Only one family remains, the Rodríguez clan. The newcomers buy a ruin and repair it into a liveable home and then begin with wider plans to attract rural tourism. The Rodríguez family strongly oppose to any form of change and a conflict is soon underway. This results in Martin mysteriously disappearing one month after winning a land rights case against the Rodríguez family.
This documentary is unusual in that it also operates as a mystery. The disappearance of Martin poses many questions and leads to many stones being uncovered. It really is difficult saying too much about this one as it's really best to approach it with as little knowledge as possible and to watch the story unfold. Two Brooklyn film-makers Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer stumbled on the story by chance and decided to make a film on it. They were helped considerably by the fortunate scenario where Martin had previously shot lots of homemade video footage of his neighbours and environs as he became more paranoid about their behaviours towards him. This first hand material adds invaluably to building up a layered account of the story. There are interviews with both groups of people, with the main focus being on Margo, who comes across as a very measured and determined lady.
It's a fascinating and sinister true account of cultures clashing badly. It seems the fault lies in both directions, not only the intolerance of the Rodríguez but also, the heavy-handed approach of Martin probably made things worse. Yet, it's obvious where the primary blame lies in this story and it remains a tragic one. Additionally, this is an interesting film simply as a look at a very unusual place. Santoalla is effectively a ruin with people living in it. It exists in a place seemingly shut off from the world, with heavy hardships for those who remain. It's a crumbling place which has a haunting quality to it. A place with stories to tell, this is one of them.