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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Palm Trees in the Snow is an epic 2015 Spanish-language movie about the love affair that emerges between a Spanish colonist and a native woman against the backdrop of the colonial oppression and revolutionary fervor of mid-20th-century Equatorial Guinea in Africa. There is brutal violence throughout, including a gang rape, flogging, characters bashed in the head with shovels, and innocent civilians gunned down by soldiers with machine guns. "F--k" is used. Men appear drunk, starting fights, falling over, and gang-raping a woman; they will claim to have no real recollection of the gang rape because they were so drunk. There are also sex scenes with some nudity as well as the sounds of passionate lovemaking. All of this, coupled with the movie's overarching themes of the complicated relationships between natives and colonists in Africa and how that changes over time as the conditions of near slavery lead to the revolutionary fervor that led to so many African nations declaring their independence in the 1960s, makes this movie best for older teens and adults.
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What's the story?
In 2003, Clarence finds in diaries and photographs hints of the secrets of her family's colonial past in present-day Equatorial Guinea. She leaves her family's estate in Equatorial Guinea to find the person who has been receiving financial assistance from her Uncle Kilian. Through flashbacks, as Clarence begins her research, we learn of Kilian leaving his home in Spain to join his brother and father on their cocoa plantation, where he is an overseer of the African laborers. He begins to loathe his brother's racism and sexual exploitation of the natives, and as he adjusts to the complications and difficulties of colonial life, he falls in love with Bisila, an African woman who works in the plantation hospital. A torrid love affair begins, despite Bisila being married and Kilian coming from a culture in which the Africans and their cultures are seen as inferior. Much to her horror and deep sorrow, Clarence learns of some of the terrible acts committed by her elders and learns many shocking truths when she manages to track down Bisila, who tells not only of the brutal racism that made their love affair difficult but also of the revolutionary zeal of the African continent during the 1960s, as Africans overthrew colonial rulers and fought for their liberation. Despite the horrors of their environment, Clarence learns of the transcendent and eternal love Bisila and Kilian shared for the rest of their lives.
Is it any good?
This is an incredible, epic Spanish film about an eternal love that emerges between a European man and an African woman in mid-20th-century Equatorial Guinea. It seamlessly interweaves the past and present, the scope of tumultuous change as a brutal colony begins a transition to an equally brutal dictatorship, and the complex interplay and relationships between those caught up in the merciless undercurrents. It's as beautiful as it is violent, as tragic as it is life-affirming. At nearly three hours, the film, as ambitious as it is, makes full use of that time to convey a breadth and scope not often seen in contemporary movies.
Complexity and nuance, in both the characters and the cultures they represent, is no easy task for a film of this magnitude, and yet there are no one-dimensional characters, none of the laziness inherent in stereotyping. It's an epic movie that feels epic in story, performance, and direction. Simply put, this is an unforgettable movie for older teens and adults.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about epic movies with historical backdrops. What are some of the ways in which this movie is "epic"? What are some of the ways in which it covers decades of a particular place and the lives of those who lived there?
Why do you think this movie does not shy away from graphic violence? Was the violence necessary?
How are the cultures of the native Africans and the Spanish colonists conveyed? What are the ways in which their often tense relationship is conveyed through the story?
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