“The Skin of the Wolf” is a wilderness battle-of-wills set in the stunning heights of the Spanish Pyrenees, a fur-covered mountain man used to getting his way confronted by a woman who takes his measure.
It’s more striking to look at than riveting to follow. But if you ever doubted Europe has wilderness to rival America’s dazzling snow-capped peaks, wild waterfalls and unforgiving forests, it’s worth a look.
Martinón (Mario Cassas of “Witching and Bitching”) is the epitome of “The Natural Man.” Bearded, self-sufficient and solitary, he hunts, farms a little and keeps a mountainous Spanish village free from wolves in the Pyrenees of the late 19th century.
He knows his trades, and treats every transaction with the same, pitiless roughness.
The village owes him money? Maybe we can work something out. Maybe the miller’s daughter, who submits to his rugged, earthy “charms” on occasion, can be bought.
Pascuala (Ruth Diaz) barely has time to get used to the routine — firewood chopping, planting, cooking and being mounted like a wolf, with about as much romantic intent — when she announces she’s pregnant. Martinón has little chance to soften his ways, as her pregnancy quickly leads to her death.
His grief burns into rage, and it’s as an aggrieved customer that he shows up at the grist mill, dragging her body in after him. He wants his money back or else.
The miller barely has time to quake, “What kind of animal ARE you,” (in Spanish, with English subtitles), when he comes up with an “or else.”
He has another daughter. And this time around, this daughter, Adela (Irene Escolar of “Finding Altamira”), isn’t all submissive and compliant. This rutting brute won’t be burying her out back, where Martinón left the holes he dug for Pascuala open before dragging her back to her father. Adela won’t give him the chance to drag her corpse down the mountain for a refund.
Such movies inevitably fall under the spell of their location — every exterior a picture postcard, every interior a candlelit study in shadows, rustic furniture and the primitive life. That tends to gloss over the limitations of a spare, straightforward and emotionally barren script.
Cassas hides his good looks behind a beard and labored, bearish breathing. He keeps Martinón unsentimental, a killer who keeps just enough wolves alive to maintain his trade. Trapping, then and now, is a stone-hearted practice and Cassas lets us see how this man, trapped himself in a half-ruined farmstead in the life he both inherited and made for himself, has been shaped by his environment.
Escolar’s Adela has the burden of turning the audience toward her and against Martinón, and while we may root for her, we don’t root that hard. The script doesn’t give her that chance.
Which is a lot of typing on my part to come around to saying, “Too little happens” for “The Skin of the Wolf” to pay off.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with lots of rough sex, hunting violence
Cast: Mario Cassas, Irene Escolar, Ruth Diaz
Credits: Written and directed by Samu Fuentes. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:52