Carlos Saura's breakthrough feature, and a grenade lobbed under Franco's nose -- the nation's barely submerged political tensions are flushed out under the baking sun. A jeep zips across the desert floor to ominous pounding, and four guys arrive at the desolate arroyo, a former battlefield, ground still battered by shell craters, where most of them previously fought Civil War loyalists. A montage of shotguns, starkly loaded and lingered over, locates the group's macho-surplus before the titular hunt, a bloodbath that pulverizes the local bunny population; the tone is jocular, oddly strained, for in the course of the day the mood grows darker and nerves get rawer in the face of an unearthed past, resentment over a friend's death, a runaway wife, money, failure, growing old. Triggers get itchy. Twentsysomething Emilio Gutiérrez Caba tags along, standing, by virtue of his youth, for hope (or, perhaps, ignorance), but the focus lies squarely on the balding, middle-aged pillars of a virulent regime -- landowner Ismael Merlo, businessman Alfredo Mayo, and widowed sci-fi buff José María Prada, all accomplices, in one way or another, in a culture's oppression. Conflating class privileges with law-of-the-fittest braggadochio, Mayo deliberately blasts gamekeeper Fernando Sánchez Polack's prized ferret; Merlo admonishes his colleague's cruelty, yet his own grasp over the peasant's land (and, by extension, his ailing mother's fate) is no less dictatorial. Prada, off in his own paranoid holiday, mumbles in German and stomps around a decapitated mannequin, a bug impaled on its chest, like a medal, to be used for target-practice seconds later. Sores are scratched open, and sanguine hands materialize as exhumed rot -- putrid rabbits, skeletons in caves, "How many humiliations have you suffered?" asked as a bovine carcass is carved, dreams recounted over sleeping mouths in hairy close-ups. To Saura, violence is both a society's fascistic residue and potential exorcism, shotgun barrels turned inwards if change is to happen. Cinematography by Luis Cuadrado. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce