Set in rural Spain during Gen. Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, “The Endless Trench” tells the story of a man who spends 33 years hidden inside his house for fear of political persecution. It’s a survival drama not unlike “The Revenant” or “127 Hours,” except what Higinio (Antonio de la Torre) must survive are not the elements or the limits of his own body, but, for the most part, isolation and tedium.
Apart from a kinetic opening in which Higinio escapes capture in the Andalusian countryside and returns to his new wife, Rosa (Belén Cuesta), the film unfolds largely indoors. As the years go by, the central couple (aged impressively by prosthetics) grapple with marital troubles and parenthood amid a life of deception and fear.
“What’s going on in the village?” Higinio asks Rosa at dinner a couple decades into his confinement. “Life, Higinio, I don’t know,” she replies exasperatedly.
It’s fertile thematic ground, but as in most survival movies, showy feats of filmmaking take precedence over insight or revelation. Cuesta and De la Torre play their parts with somber, awards-appropriate dignity, and the film’s glossy production values imbue even blood and grit with a golden-yellow glow. Every emotional beat is underlined with precious visuals: a beam of light illuminating a single tear on Higinio’s face as he watches Rosa’s interrogation through a hole in the wall; Higinio wistfully examining photographs of everyday life under a magnifying glass.
It’s all (neatly rendered) text, with little subtext. The directors Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga literalize this approach with intertitles — featuring dictionary entries of words like “hide,” “detention,” and “danger” — that plainly lay out the film’s themes.
The Endless Trench
Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 27 minutes. Watch on Netflix.