LES SORCIÈRES D’AKELARRE / AKELARRE. (COVEN OF SISTERS).

There is an impressive Spanish production being aired on Netflix now, The Coven of Sisters, or Akelerre was produced in 2020 and is a tale of witchcraft or at least the suspicion of it being carried out by a group of young women. I suppose it can be likened to Witchfinder General and The Crucible in some ways. I found it interesting and fixating at times, with the musical score playing an important part in heightening the tension and evoking the sinister and disturbing elements of the story. Set in the Basque country of Northern Spain in 1609, this is a riveting and at times complex tale. At the time in which this story is set there was an abundance of pagan legends and ancient traditions, and we see Judge Rostegui belonging to the Spanish Inquisition being sent to the area by King Felipe III, accompanied by a notary and a group of soldiers, his task to purify all of the region, traveling from town to town and from village to hamlet to burn any woman showing signs that they could be a witch. Rostegui and his entourage become obsessed with finding information about the infamous Sabbat because he does not believe in its existence. The Sabbat is said to be a feast where witches summon the Devil to swear loyalty to him and to mate with him.

The Judge arrives at an unnamed coastal village with no men because the male population are all away at sea where five girls who are in their 20’s are arrested: Ana, Olaia, María, Maider and a teenager Katalin.  They cannot understand why they have been arrested but are subjected to torturous interrogation in order to force a confession from them, admitting that they are Witches and are aware of the Sabbat. One of them Maider having her hair shaved from her head and tortured mercilessly whilst her inquisitors look for the mark of Satan upon her. A mark that is invisible but when prodded or stabbed shows no pain. Ana convinces the rest of the girls to invent the Sabbat that Rostegui is so desperate to discover.

Their plan is to take as long as they can to explain the ritual to their interrogators so that the men will be home from sea and will be able to save them. The girls use all their imagination to try and convince the Judge of the Sabbat and their involvement, they weave a thread of lies that convince the Judge that they are witches and perform a ritual in front of him and his soldiers and a priest. But Rostegui suspects that Ana and the rest are in truth not witches or are they and simply trying to enchant him? The Judge brings forward their date of execution, discovering that they have just been buying time with their fabrications. The movie is the recent recipient of five Goya Awards, which included one for its effective musical score by composer Aranzazu Calleja (The Platform, Taxi A Gibraltar).

The movie displays a commanding and well-structured account of the misogynistic and misguided religion of the Spanish Catholic Inquisition, of how it altered reality to its prejudices, and does not hesitate to display its blatant stupidity at times, imposing an unexpected twist on the story and projecting all these towards the political present in an eloquent way but never underlined thanks to its realistic inventory and also because of the way in which it is shot and directed with precision by filmmaker Pablo Aguero. The music for the movie is sensitively woven and enhances and supports without being intrusive or overpowering. In fact, it is the subtlety of the music and the placing of it also that makes this such an interesting, affecting, and entertaining score. The fragility and slightness of some of its themes are alluring and haunting, wonderfully underlining and punctuating each scene, giving them an authenticity, and creating uneasy atmospheres, that are claustrophobic and at times unsettling.

The score is a mixture of music and songs, whether these lyrics and songs are traditional or otherwise I am not certain, but their inclusion also purveys an authentic style and sound which serves the movie and its storyline admirably plus they become integral and important to the storyline.  Coven of Sisters, Coven, or Akelerre is essentially a horror movie, but  it is a film that makes one think about the plot and scenarios that arise from within it, sensitively scored by the composer who has provided a soundtrack that although not grand in any way but instead sinewy and understated and because of this the music is more powerful and has a greater impact within the context of the movie. Recommended, available from Plaza Mayor Company and on digital platforms.