CINEMA: Hacienda Melodrama

The House of the Spirits is stilted and cliched, but fine performances and an honorable gravity give it merit

When Esteban the patron (Jeremy Irons) wakes up horny, saddles his horse and goes out to rape a peasant, you just know this isn't going to turn out to be an idle incident. A little later, when he is outraged at discovering his prepubescent daughter Blanca skinny-dipping with Pedro, his estancia foreman's son, you sense that moment too is going to have its consequences somewhere down the plot line. For from its opening frames, The House of the Spirits announces itself as one of those sagas in which there are no accidents, only portents of big-time ironies to come.

Sure enough,...

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