Witch trials were a widespread phenomenon in Europe and North America between the XVI and XIX centuries. Despite how ridiculous it may sound, a lot of people were condemned to death accused of witchery, especially women. The Holy Inquisition had opened a total of 125,000 processes during those years, and at least 59 people were burned trying to expel the devil from within them.
This barbarism affected Spain too; one of the most famous trials is the Zugarramundi one, a small village in Navarra where, in 1610, the Inquisition processed 53 people and executed 11 of them. The action in Coven of Sisters is set one year earlier, in 1609, and it depicts a trial made to five young girls, who were living in a small fisher’s village.
In this artistic masterpiece directed by Pablo Agüero, he tells us the story of those girls, who do what teenagers were supposed to do. They work (the XVII century was not idyllic from the point of view of labor or children’s rights), but also play, laugh, and have fun. One night they decide to go into the woods to dance, drink some cider, smoke, and sing; in short, to have a good time. Nonetheless, by performing such naïve actions, they signed their own death sentences.
From the very beginning a clear contrast is established between the church and the common people. The first, represented by the king’s emissary, the judge Rosteguy De Lancre (Àlex Brendemühl), and his minions, are the representation of pure evil. They are wicked, have a despotic look in their eyes, and they are almost tired of burning people due to their unorthodox behaviors. On the other hand, the girls and women from the village are trying to earn their keep while the men are deep sea fishing for months. They have a peaceful but hard life, denoted by the intense work they are forced to do to survive, which is perfectly depicted in the first scene of the movie where we can see females of all ages doing manual labor. But that harmony is jeopardized with the arrival of the religious men.
In a very effective way, Agüero criticizes the whole Catholic institution. The contrast between the rural, simple, and pleasing world, and the traditional and authoritarian religious world is present in almost every action developed in the film. What is more, the corruption of the latter is neatly represented in the judge figure, who has lots of sexual repressed desires and he starts to see the sensuality embodied in Amaia (Amaia Aberasturi), giving us an outline of how creepy the religious authorities were- and unfortunately still are- in some places.
Aesthetically, I can only suggest how perfect this movie is edited and directed. The French Argentinian director uses the same format as Robert Eggers in The Witch (2015): 1.66:1. The influence is clear, but Coven of Sisters can stand out by itself. Its biggest achievement is that it thrills us with its oneiric imagery, created in a unique style due to the perfect edition, color treatment, and a certain amount of grain that faithfully recreates a dark past time. In this context, the editor Teresa Font plays a fundamental part, a true specialist in that kind of aesthetics, as she has proven before in some Álex de la Iglesia films, such as: The Day of the Beast (1995), or Dying of Laughter (1999).
Another powerful use of the images can be appreciated on the numerous frames, where a perfect usage of still life and Costumbrista paintings is made in order to introduce the next act or to equate some character’s attributes with the “painting” itself. For instance, when a bull skull still life is used to introduce the nervous Rosteguy De Lancre into the scene.
Overall, what we have here is a majestic oeuvre. It accomplishes its objective to depict the injustices made along the centuries against women, the atrocities committed by the Church and the contrast between peaceful, rural life and the heinous crimes perpetrated with moral justification by Catholicism. All of it, with a brilliant aesthetic edition, which helps us to put ourselves in the young girls’ shoes. You will get angry, nervous, and desperate at some point, but you will be delighted by how smooth everything work in Coven of Sisters. The film is a true piece of art that you must watch.
Because all of that, I give the film 5 stars on the Incluvie score, and 4.5 stars on the movie score.
Coven of Sisters is available to watch on Netflix.