Que Dios nos perdone, directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen (2016).
Madrid, summer of 2011. The city is upturned by 15-M social movement and the imminent visit of Pope Benedict XVI for World Youth Day. Homicides agents Velarde (Antonio de la Torre) and Alfaro (Roberto Álamo) come to investigate the death of an old woman and find out she has been raped. Alfaro is violent, impulsive, short-tempered and coarse. Velarde is fastidious, intelligent, socially inept and has a speech impediment. As more old women turn up dead and raped, they must fight the impediments their own department sets up for them in order to find the murderer.
What sets this movie apart from others of the same kind is that it’s as much about the two detectives as it is about solving the crime. It constantly seeks to oppose characters and situations to one another in order to break that opposition and reveal a disturbing equality instead. Alfaro and Velarde look like polar opposites, just to be shown to be the same. They believe themselves to be unlike the killer they’re pursuing, only to find out they share some motivations. It is a movie about men. About ruthless men, about men incapable of tenderness, empathy or love. It’s a movie about men who hate women, who are incapable of protecting or respecting women. It’s a movie about men with no feminine qualities to them. It’s a movie about toxic and oppressive masculinity.
Antonio de la Torre is brilliant. It’s not only the way he stutters. It’s the way he looks, the way he walks, the way he smiles. He’s a totally different person from anyone else he has ever played and he manages to be endearing and despicable almost at the same time. Roberto Álamo is up to the challenge. He lives and breathes his character, his boiling rage comes out of the screen at you.
The film’s pacing is more than correct and the length is appropriate. The way I experienced it, the emotional climax happens much earlier than the reveal and that brings you in a relaxed state to the unveiling of the killer, which feels weird but is not necessarily bad.
To wrap it up, totally recommended.
I would like to examine some of the techniques that the writers used in order to contrast and then equal the three main characters: Velarde, Alfaro and the killer.
Alfaro is very unsubtly established as a violent police officer. He shares a story about an antiriot agent beating up his own son and thinks it’s funny. He beat up one of his fellow officers in the station. He’s familiar with prostitutes. On the other hand, Velarde wears a suit to work and is meticulous the same way a genius detective in the vein of Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be. I really liked that they veered away from the autism spectrum for once because that shit is getting really boring. The speech impediment is consistent with the rest of his character, is accurate and as a bonus, it serves visibility and representation.
Alfaro’s family life doesn’t differ much from what we’d expect from his public life. He’s mildly violent with his son and distant with his daughter, to the point that she refers to him by his given name. He doesn’t look very close to his wife. As for Velarde, his scenes with the charwoman serve to illustrate how lonely he feels. I found the scene where he’s looking at her from the peephole to be wonderfully executed. She’s attracted to the fados he’s playing loudly, so she comes closer to the door, closer to his intimate space. He leans towards the door like he wants to hug it, and her. The door is effective as the barrier that stands between them. Their body language exudes desire, which is intensified in the scene where they both ride the lift down. He wants to come closer to her, which is reflected by closing down the shot. She knows he does, but she doesn’t look at him. Every time she knocks on his door, he takes almost too long to open, because he can’t bring himself to do it. Finally, she brings him some gazpacho and he invites her in. He hugs and kisses her from behind and she’s receptive. Up to here I found everything to be very cute and sexy, so the twist was almost painful: he starts undoing his zipper right away and doesn’t stop when she shows discomfort and reject. He ends up shoving her against the furniture, she’s injured and the gazpacho is spilt on his white rug. What happened here cannot be excused by inexperience or awkwardness: it is the product of disregard and disrespect for his sexual partner. Velarde is just like Alfaro, they are both bad with women, for different reasons. They both have poor social skills, of a different kind. They are both bad with people. Later on, they both fantasize about hiring some prostitutes while on the job and the only thing that stops them is that Velarde is too awkward to go ahead. Either way, Alfaro was willing to be unfaithful to his wife and Velarde looks like he’s given up trying to become intimate with a woman.
Their supervisor gives them a speech about how they, as law enforcement, have the mission to protect the weak, their families, their wives and children. While trying to hunt down the killer, Velarde and Alfaro end up withholding over a hundred civilians instead. They are both given dishonourable discharges. Alfaro drives to his home village, where his wife is on holiday, to find out she had been sleeping with another man. He goes back home on a drinking binge and his dog dies (it is unclear whether he dies due to neglect or sickness). This whole chain of events is precisely the opposite of what he’s supposed to do as a police officer and a head of family. He’s unable to succeed in his job, protect potential victims, retain his wife and keep his dog alive, and this last event makes him plunge over the edge. He has all the negative traits of masculinity, and none of the positive ones. His mental breakdown peaks in the scene where he gets arrested for trying to bury his dog in the common lawn of his residential area. Note how this contrasts with the killer, who feeds stray cats.
Now the killer has a very particular psychological profile: he kills and rapes old women. The police profilers theorize that he has a conflict with his mother, whom he sees as a figure of authority. Women are not absent from the movie but they are represented in rather unconventional terms. They appear either as old ladies, fragile, vulnerable and undesirable; or as distant and inaccessible. All the characters are disgusted at the killer raping old women, because who wants to fuck a crone, right? The killer is specifically targeting unacceptable objects of desire. On the other hand, both Alfaro’s wife and the charwoman wear little to no makeup, unflattering clothes and aren’t willing to fulfill Alfaro’s and Velarde’s desires. The other two women in their environment, the coroner and the police officer, don’t seem very interested in honouring them either. There is not one conventionally attractive, receptive and demure woman in the whole movie and that is so rare that it makes it look like there are no women in the movie, when there are a lot. Velarde and Alfaro share the killer’s contempt towards women at a much smaller scale: they can’t understand or control the women in their lives, and they are incapable of loving them. In Velarde’s case, there might be something more: in the final scene, he tells the killer his stuttering started after his mother beat him once. We cannot be sure whether this is true or he’s lying in order to intimidate the killer. We never learn what the terrible thing his mother did to him was but it might as well be a beating. Either way, there is a new link between Velarde and the killer in the form of motherly abuse.
Once the dramatic climax is reached, the characters continue evolving. Confronted with the killer’s sick psychology or with their own poor life decisions, Alfaro and Velarde decide to take the wheel. Alfaro is willing to see his wife and discuss what happened. Velarde tracks the charwoman down and they start an affair. In the last scene he mentions a girlfriend who hated his stuttering but never told him: could have been her. Alfaro becomes more meticulous and that’s how he finds the killer’s necklace. Velarde learns to be more insistent and play dirty when necessary and that’s how he gets the information he needs from the priest. Once his mother is dead, the killer no longer has any desire to continue and flees the city. Finally, Velarde hunts down and murders the killer. We don’t know whether he does it to avenge Alfaro, to finish up the case that slipped between his fingers, or to run away from the rest of things happening in his life.