Year: 2017
Director(s): Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer
Writer(s): n/a
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 83 mins

Synopsis: A Dutch couple, Martin and Margo Verfondern, move to a remote Spanish village of Santoalla to start a new life. There is conflict with the Spanish residents, resulting in the disappearance of Martin. (Source)

True crime doc Santoalla is proof that reality still hits harder than fiction. Shot over a number of years by directors Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer, the doc tells a small, intimate story, presenting an isolated microcosm that ends up defining all of us. The film is eerie and moody in all the right ways, and yet, there’s a fascinating sense of hope and beautify underneath it all.

The story begins with Dutch couple Martin Verfondern and Margo Pool, two activists who decided to leave Holland and travel the world. Disheartened by the rise of big cities and the complications growing within their shadow, they eventually came across Santoalla, Spain, in the northwestern region of Galicia. Completely off the beaten path, the sequestered village was made up of nothing but ruins, with only a single family living there. Seeing the fertile fields and forests surrounding the village, Martin and Margo saw promise, hoping to cultivate the area while living closer to nature. With plans to create an ecological hub, a Noah’s ark made of local livestock and agriculture, the two bought one of the ruins, quickly restoring it and its accompanying land. Initially, their efforts flourished, done in partnership with neighbors Jovita, husband Manolo, sons Julio and Carlos. It didn’t take long, however, for bad blood to form between both families. Over the next few years, this tension would only continue to build between the Verfonderns and their Spanish neighbors, leading to the abrupt disappearance of Martin, and an infamous revelation.

Becker and Mehrer greatest asset, is allowing us to see the film’s mystery from two angles, that of the Verfonderns and their indigenous neighbors. Using archival footage and first-hand interviews spanning years, the directors aren’t quick to judge, carefully unravelling their dense mystery in a way that feels fair and even empathetic. The village itself begins to feel like a character, watching as its inherited inhabitants come to blows with hopeful interlopers who may have overstepped. Still, Becker and Mehrer aren’t here to judge, knowing that the story’s sadness outweighs the need for pointing fingers. When all is said and done, the mystery’s truth turns out to reveal a story as timeless as Cain and Abel, one in which territorial spats, jealousy, a struggle for resources and a fear of change ultimately crumbles good intentions.

Once the truth about Martin is revealed, the film turns into a tribute to Margo’s strength, enduring years of denied closure only to learn of what she feared most. Margo’s ability to eventually move past such a dark time closes the film out, showing how our home can be more than four walls around us, but the memory or constant reminders of someone we never want to forget. As the last inhabitant of Santoalla (to this very day), she emerges a survivor, changed and strengthened by her past. Becker and Mehrer’s film leaves us with two truths: that no place on earth is immune to our inherent frailty, and that tragedy can’t stand in the face of courage.

SG

Screenings currently scheduled for Taos, NM, Chicago, IL and Wilmington, DE, please visit Oscilloscope for full details.