Though brightly lit by the harsh Mallorcan sun, El Mar is a film of tremendous darkness, a troubling meditation on history and violence and sickness of both the body and the soul. Set during the difficult days of the Spanish Civil War and then ten years later in the first years after World War II, it considers the fates of three children of violence who grow into young adults without successfully processing all the horrors they've seen.

As children, Francisca, Ramallo, and Manuel witness seemingly random firing squads in their dirt-poor village. Members of their own families are killed before their eyes, and when another child taunts Ramallo, saying his father was a bad guy, Ramallo has no problem with killing the kid by bashing his head against a rock and then stabbing him in the throat for good measure.

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