Would you kill the man who murdered your father? That’s the question that changes Rogelio’s life in THE BASTARD’S FIG TREE. As a member of a fascist regime in Spain, Rogelio kills “traitors” and their families frequently. One day after he murders a father and 14-year-old son, he realizes the family’s 10-year-old son witnessed him do it. The son spends 7 hours digging a grave. He comes back to the burial site each night with a watering can. Rogelio is there every night, unable to sleep and haunted by what he’s done.
The young boy has only one request—he wants Rogelio to water the fig sapling he’s planted in the grave. Year after year, Rogelio is consumed with protecting the fig sapling as it grows into a tree. And he is haunted by the question—will the 10-year-old someday murder him for his actions?
THE BASTARD’S FIG TREE is a historical drama from director and editor Ana Murugarren. She has previously directed Tres mentiras, La dama guerrera, and El precio de la libertad. The movie features Karra Elejalde (The Little Switzerland), Pepa Aniorte (Servir y proteger), Carlos Areces (La due se avecina), Mikel Losada (The Little Switzerland), and Andrés Herrera (Com si fos ahir).
As the film progresses over more than twenty years, we see Rogelio change in ways that are inexplicable to those around him. He seeks forgiveness for his actions by caring for the tree, all other aspects of life be damned. There is a lot of symbolism that can be read into the growth of a tree, cared for by a young man and an old man.
The fig tree metaphor is ambiguous and fluid in its meaning in a thought-provoking way. I haven’t been able to get this movie out of my head since I watched it. One of the reasons I loved this movie is because even if you don’t really understand the political metaphors the story has to offer, you can enjoy it on a surface level.
The production design is lovely—shot on location, the set slowly gets built over the course of the movie. After all, if Rogelio watches the tree 24/7, he needs a chair to sit. Then he builds a house, and so on, all revolving around the fig tree.
It is a slow-moving 105-minute movie, and it will not suit every taste. The film is in Spanish with English subtitles, so English-speaking viewers will need to pay close attention to make sure they absorb the carefully written dialogue. But overall, THE BASTARD’S FIG TREE is a thought-provoking, powerful allegory about repentance and forgiveness.