Vacas | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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For his 1992 debut feature, Basque director Julio Medem has appropriated David Lynch's larky visuals and eerie sound track to tell the saga of a multigenerational family feud. Spanning the six decades between two of modern Spain's bloody civil wars--one in 1875 and the other in the 1930s--the narrative is a soap operatic procession of macho rivalries, lust, hatred, adultery, and incest. But Medem, who was trained as a surgeon and worked briefly as a film critic, isn't all that interested in melodrama. Instead he focuses on the symbolic value of the forest that separates the two family farms in an isolated Andalusian valley. The woods cast a spell on the main characters, including the cowardly, stoic, possibly mad paterfamilias who spends his time painting surreal canvases of cows (hence the title). Much of the action takes place there, from children's games to lovemaking to executions. Watching over all the human activity are the cows, a source of nourishment and benevolence; at times the camera even assumes the bovine viewpoint. Like Lynch and the Coen brothers, Medem sometimes lets his dazzling camera work intrude on his story telling, and he's perversely cryptic in his dialogue and use of symbols. One would think that in the post-Franco era, a Basque filmmaker could afford to be more forthright about his political sympathies. The ensemble of broody actors includes Emma Suarez, Carmelo Gomez, and Ana Torrent. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday and Saturday, September 23 and 24, 7:00 and 9:00, Sunday, September 25, 5:30 and 7:30, Monday through Friday, September 26 through 30, 7:00 and 9:00, 281-4114.

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