Andrew Becker & Daniel Mehrer's Santoalla is a true crime story and intimate character study detailing the turbulent past decade for Margo Pool, a Dutch women, who moved to the small, secluded Spanish village of Santoalla with her husband nearly a decade ago, in search for a more peaceful life away from the complications and daily constraints of living in a modern cityscape. Beginning a simple, more soul-affirming life that sees them live off the land, Margo and her husband soon find themselves in a power struggle with Santoalla's sole remaining family, one which escalates over the years, culminating in the mysterious disappearance of Margo's husband Martin. Brooding with mystery and intrigue early on, Becker and Mehrer's Santoalla plays like a documentary thriller, providing the viewer with intricate details about the feud between families, choosing to profile both sides of the story while never embracing a particular narrative early on. Santoalla is a film which manages to remain relatively objective in its examination surrounding Martin's disappearance for much of its running time, despite the film's primary character profile being Margo, this woman who is forced to psychologically deal with the trauma and grief centered around the disappearance of her husband. Santoalla details how Margo and Martin's quest for tranquility is disrupted by this feud which begins to develop between the neighbors, detailing how even in such a serene, secluded environment, where only two families share a whole village, the toxic and coercive effects of human nature can grab hold. The calming, peaceful nature of this Spanish landscape is beautifully juxtaposed with the lurking sense of danger and intrigue related to Martin's disappearance, with the film's early objectivity slowly fading away, as it becomes more and more clear that this Spanish family is directly involved in Martin's disappearance. While seemingly a good-natured person at first glance, the longer the mother of this Spanish family is profiled, the more her true nature becomes revealed, with the documentaries' early objectivity fading away, as it becomes apparent that Margo's perception of the events is the objective truth, not simply her subjective interpretation of what happened. The mother of this Spanish woman is shown routinely contradicting herself throughout the film's running time, with the film slowly building to reveal a quietly diabolical villain, the chief conspirator and leader of this Spanish family whom felt threatened by the arrival of Margo and Martin, eventually taking heinous action which left Martin dead. Much of this feud is centered around rights and commerce associated with the common land in the region, as this woman's vitrol for the Dutch couple is eventually revealed, in particularly during one interview in which she states directly to the camera that Margo and Martin need to "know their place". This feud and tragedy profiled in Santoalla says something dark and depressing about human nature, showcasing the intrinsic selfishness and greed which lurks in the hearts of humankind, with this film detailing how even in such a vast, isolated place of tranquility and solitude, humanity's penchant for greed and violence can manifest itself. Through the film's profile of Margo, Santoalla is just as much a story about the crippling effect grief has on the psyche, detailing a woman in search of answers or some form of closure about her husband's disappearance, as she grasps desperately to know her husband's fate. Margo's pain and suffering is felt throughout this documentaries running time, as the film offers an intimate examination of one woman's grief and struggles with her inability to know the exact fate of her husband. In this sense, Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer's Santoalla evolves as it progresses, starting off as a true crime mystery only to turn into an intimate, personal character study, exhibiting a story of perseverance through grief and eventually closure, detailing a woman whom despite losing the love of her life, refuses to leave, content on keeping the dream her and her husband had alive, living in a simpler and more spiritual life in this secluded, tranquil landscape. A film deconstructing the cohesion of light and darkness which exists in humanity, Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer's Santoalla is a true crime story that is both intimate and expansive, detailing the darker aspects of human nature while delivering a powerful and intimate story of one woman's perseverance when it comes to not letting the darkness, destroy what her and her husband tried to achieve.
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