In fact, the different characters whose tales are told over the course of the film are all so engaging that the moviegoer is sure to be captivated by their burning animosities, simple hopes, and endearing romances. The childhood friendship and sexual attraction that arise between Cristina (Emma Suárez), a girl from one of the families, and Peru (Carmelo Gómez), a boy from the other, is, for instance, imbued with a particularly moving sweetness. While perhaps not as affecting as is the slowly intensifying love of these two, the eccentricities of Peru and Cristina's aging, crippled grandfather, Manual (Txema Blasco), who is obsessed with painting pictures of cows, and the enduring rivalry that develops between the boy's father and his mother's brother are also skillfully handled. It is hard to believe that any sensitive viewer could fail to be caught up in the lives of these persons and not immerse himself in their poignantly realized feelings and experiences.
What is more, the movie's visual qualities greatly enhance the emotions the narrative stirs up. The narrowness and magic of the world in which the two families around whom the film revolves live is brought to the viewer's attention again and again with various images. The protagonists rarely wander far from their homes, and, when they do, they leave the film and remain unseen, so that all we know of their travels comes from those who have remained behind. As tiny as this universe is, however, it is always suffused with such an entrancing loveliness that we do not want to leave it ourselves. We cannot, in truth, avoid being charmed by the characters' quaint houses perched on the slopes of green hills and by the thick surrounding forests, which are carpeted with ferns and inhabited by a mysterious and sometimes frightening loveliness. We are even thrilled and delighted when we hear about the dangers of boars roaming amongst the shadows of the trees and when we are shown a dark, uncanny pit into which the corpses of animals are cast and which, perhaps, leads to some other universe. All these details conjure up a distinctive, intimate landscape and give the movie a real emotivity.
Lastly, I should add that the film is permeated with both a poetic austerity and an enthralling artificiality. Continuities running through the narrative are thus brought out not only by revealing how the same simple hatreds and interests reoccur in the individuals of each generation, but also by having these persons played by the same actors. Carmelo Gómez, for example, appears in three different roles, portraying Manuel as a young man, Manuel's son Ignacio, and Ignacio's son Peru. Such devices, fortunately, are always effectively utilized and consistently help to infatuate the moviegoer with the tale's protagonists.
Although Vacas never really attains greatness, it is a pleasant, touching, lovely film that is sure to enthrall and delight the viewer.
Review by Keith Allen
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