‘THE FOREST’ (NETFLIX)
At some point recently, European television makers realized they had a lot of lovely, evocative forests that made for excellent crime settings, while also doing the work of creating thematic spaces for hidden secrets that could be utilized in a mystery about isolated areas. No longer are crime shows relegated to the urban centers of that continent. The French efforts have been hit or miss, but some have been enjoyable, and I’m pretty sure “The Forest” is the best of the French bunch.
Focusing on a body found in the forest — of course — “The Forest” takes a hint from “Broadchurch” by featuring Lieutenant Virginie Musso (Suzanne Clement), a police officer who is investigating the dark crime while contending with a new outsider police chief, Gaspard Decker (Samuel Labarthe ), telling her how to do things and also struggling to render down tensions in her family. As the case expands, so does her family’s role in it, and Musso begins to accept the well-meaning investigative attempts of Decker as a way of supporting her in a tough investigation.
There are the typical small town connections and transgressions — if anything, “Twin Peaks” formalized this dynamic years ago — but the show also makes for further mysteriousness in the forest beyond the murders that tie directly into the main story, and lets the theme of men as predators play out on multiple levels.
In the end, the suspense is sustained admirably throughout, but the show is also generous enough to spend some quality time with characters after their immediate trauma has passed.
‘ERREMENTARI: THE BLACKSMITH AND THE DEVIL’ (NETFLIX)
You don’t have to believe in Christian mythology to find it exhilarating and evocative, and you don’t have to adhere to the idea of a physical Satan in order to acknowledge the fiction about him constitutes the most resonant fable of evil and rebellion that mankind has ever created. Satan does need to be real in order for him to be effective, which is why he figures into the work of non-believers as much as believers.
The Spanish film “Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil,” directed by Paul Urkijo Alijo, understands this, and presents a tale of Satan’s interaction with humans as a Grimm fairy tale concoction — indeed, it is based on the Grimm-collected tale “The Smith and the Devil” — in which demons are both tricksters and monsters sent to entrap humans for the failures and punish them forever for the seemingly arbitrary decisions of an unseen creator. Devils and demons are the physical proof of a wider system beyond the human experience, but one that suggests it’s a rigged game and the demons actually always win.
In the film, orphan girl Usue (Uma Bracaglia) is tricked into releasing a demon (Eneko Sagardoy) being kept by the hermit-like blacksmith (Kandido Uranga), who are then faced with wrangling the demon back, but also tackling the intrusions of townspeople, a mysterious government official, and the dark secrets that lurk in the blacksmith’s past. There’s Guillarmo del Toro style to the production, with a little bit of Jean-Pierre Jeunet in evidence, making the 19th-century drama appear like a particularly lush stage production.
The performances are all around energetic and magnetic, particular Bracaglia as the fierce orphan girl and Sgardoy as the demon, for whom the film is able to build sympathy even as he plies his evil.
And while most of the film takes place within the gloomy Spanish village and the claustrophobic blacksmith’s lair, it also takes the viewer straight to Hell, and offers a terrifying vision that evokes the traditional vision of it, especially those captured in old religious paintings, while still making it the site of psychological horror more than any physical doom.
Many films involving devils and demons present humans as prey, but the beauty of Errementari is its examination of our relationship with them, of how they affect our own stories and behavior and feelings, how they restrict and inspire, and in this way, it’s the truest film about Satan you will probably ever see.
Originally published at www.berkshireeagle.com.