The second Carlist war, 1875. Panicking under fire, Basque woodcutter Irigibel drops to the earth and smears himself with blood gushing hot from the neck of his mortally wounded neighbour, Mendiluze. The battle over, he crawls out from a cart-load of the dead, naked but unremarked, except by a curious, solitary cow. Medem's trenchant, daring directorial debut cuts through the decades like an axe. 1905: the neighbours' sons feud and Irigibel embarks on a clandestine affair with his counterpart's sister. 1915: her bastard son Peru grows up alongside his half-sister, while the boy's parents elope to America and take him with them. 1936: Peru returns to photograph the Spanish Civil War. Medem is unexpectedly impatient with that old standby of Spanish cinema, the epic historical melodrama. His movie is swift and urgent - it's closer to Jane Campion than Carlos Saura - and he has a sharp eye for la vida loca. Captured at moments of crisis and decision, his characters are forced to confront the precariousness of their rural existence and the great black hole of their own mortality. Imperviously, implacably bovine - it's somehow typical of this startlingly original picture that cows should carry the bulk of the symbolism.