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The House of the Spirits

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bille August
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Written by Isabel Allende (novel)
Bille August
Starring Jeremy Irons
Meryl Streep
Glenn Close
Winona Ryder
Antonio Banderas
Music by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography Jörgen Persson
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date(s) 1993
Running time 140 min.
Country Portugal
Germany
Denmark
United States
Language English
Budget $40 000 000

The House of the Spirits is a 1993 dramatic movie starring Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Winona Ryder, and Antonio Banderas. The supporting cast includes Vanessa Redgrave, Maria Conchita Alonso, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Jan Niklas. It was directed by Bille August, and based on the Isabel Allende novel La Casa de los Espíritus.

Principal photography took place in Denmark, but some scenes were filmed in Lisbon and Alentejo, Portugal. It won awards at the Bavarian Film Awards, German Film Awards, Golden Screen (Germany), Havana Film Festival, and Robert Festival (Denmark), as well as from the German Phono Academy and the Guild of German Art House Cinemas.

Contents

Plot

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Prologue

At the beginning of the movie, we see a young woman arrive at a house with an old man. She leads him in the house and sits him on a chair, where he asks to be alone. The young woman sits down on the stairs, close to where a little girl is playing. The young woman starts pondering about life, and soon begins to narrate a story.

Clara and Esteban

The woman states her mother, Clara, knew that she is not in love with Esteban, but marries him anyway. However, Esteban Trueba (Jeremy Irons), had come to propose to Rosa the Beautiful, Clara's sister. Clara who is still a young child, sits beside Esteban and moves the table piece with her mind. It is stated that the family tried to hide Clara's powers, but every one knew about them.

While telling people about their future, Clara has an asthma attack and screams. She tells her sister Rosa that she predicted that there will be another death in the family. The next day, the Indian servant finds Rosa dead on the bed. It is figured out Rosa died from poisoning, after drinking a poisoned drink meant for Severo. While Severo blames himself, Clara's mother tries to convince her daughter it wasn't her fault Rosa died, that she can only predict things, not make them happen. However, after accidentally witnessing an autopsy to confirm her sister's poisoning, Clara decides never to speak again.

Esteban arrives heartbroken at the funeral. At home, his sister Férula (Glenn Close) confronts him saying that he has to work to support her and their sick mother. Esteban states he bought an hacienda named Tres Marías. He leaves for his hacienda, where he finds many natives living. He befriends their leader, named Segundo. He tells the servants that if they stay they'll have food and shelter, but they'll have to work. For the next twenty years, Esteban makes Tres Marias an example of a successful hacienda. However, he also rapes the peasant girl, Pancha Garcia (Sarita Choudhury). Meanwhile, Clara lives in her own world of fantasy, at her house.

One day, twenty years later, Esteban receives a letter stating his mother has died. After her funeral, Esteban decides to marry and have legitimate children. He decides to ask for Clara's hand, despite Férula telling him she is to sickly and won't take care of him. When he shows up at the Del Valle family's house, Clara (Meryl Streep) asks him right away if he is here to ask her to marry him, thus speaking again for the first time in twenty years. Despite Severo's remark and ugly face, Clara states that she doesn't want to lose time. Esteban confirms he is here to marry Clara, and the two go out for a walk.

Férula is worried now that Esteban is getting married, as she now has no purpose in the world. She meets Clara at a coffee shop to talk to her, and Clara, already knowing about Férula's worries, promises her that she can live with her and Esteban, and that they'll be like sisters. Clara gives Férula a kiss on the cheek, and Férula is stunned, nobody had ever demonstrated so much affection for her.

After the party, Clara and Esteban go to live in Tres Marias, where Férula, along with the servants and Segundo, is waiting for them. Férula eagerly tries to talk to Clara, but Esteban hastily cuts her off.

Supposedly some time later, Férula goes to church to confess that she has strange feelings for Clara. She reports uneasiness when Clara sleeps with Esteban, and also fierce dedication to her sister-in-law. Férula tells the priest that she once was so uneasy about Clara sleeping with Esteban that she walked through the house and peeped at the couple through the door. She says that they were doing sins certainly brought about by the devil, but that Clara was not to blame, she was innocent as a child, Esteban drives her to it. While Férula narrates the couple's sexual practices, we can see Férula's vision from the door. Suddenly Clara sticks her head up and says "It will be a girl, and her name will be Blanca!"

The scene cuts to Clara's parents climbing into a car. The car slides down the road and there is a terrible car accident. The scene again cuts to Tres Marias, where a police man is telling the pregnant Clara and Esteban about the accident. The police man reports that Clara's mother's head was cut off during the accident, and that they weren't able to find it. Clara wants to go help them find it, but Esteban doesn't let her. Later, Clara goes behind her husband's back along with Férula. She tells the driver where to take them, and after getting off, she tells the driver to please take the woman's head he will find behind that bush and then take her home, as she is about to give birth.

Clara gives birth to a girl, named Blanca, as she predicted. While Clara, Esteban, Férula and little Blanca are playing on the yard, the woman Esteban raped before appears, with her teenage son, Esteban Garcia, bastard son of Esteban Trueba. She asks for money and says that Esteban Trueba cannot get away from them, and not from his own son. Esteban Trueba goes back to play with Blanca, and is annoyed by Férula's interference in their family. He is also annoyed when Férula tries to give Clara a bath, stating she is not a baby.

Esteban Garcia goes in to the main house at Tres Marias when no one is looking. He finds Blanca playing hopscotch in the living room. Blanca inquires who he is, but he doesn't answer. He looks at Blanca and calls her to his lap. He asks about her dress and tells her she smells good. Blanca says her mother made the dress, and that her mother and aunt bathe her in a bubble bath every day. Esteban Garcia asks if she can believe that they have the same blood in their veins. Blanca is confused and asks what he said. Esteban Garcia puts his hand under Blanca's dress, and she asks what he is doing. He doesn't answer, but Férula calls Blanca's name and Esteban Garcia leaves running.

Clara has been given classes as a teacher to the peasant children and Blanca. Clara calls a young boy called Pedro Tercero to read his story about the chickens and the fox. Blanca looks endearingly at Pedro Tercero, and after school, she goes out to play with him. The two are gone for hours, and Esteban Trueba, Férula and Clara start worrying. Even though Clara has paranormal powers, she can't use them on someone who doesn't want to be found. Férula and Segundo eventually find Blanca playing in the lagoon with Pedro Tercero, Segundo's son. Esteban Trueba doesn't like that Blanca was playing with a peasant boy, and doesn't want his daughter going native. He decides to send Blanca to a boarding school. Férula is against it, but Esteban Trueba tells her never to interfere with his family. Blanca is sent to a boarding school.

That night, after Esteban goes to a political party, there is an earthquake, and Férula climbs into bed with Clara. When Esteban sees this, he is so angry that he kicks Férula out of the house, and tells her to never step close to his family again. Clara feels bad about this, and when Esteban tries to seduce her, she states not now.

Blanca and Pedro Tercero

The next scene has Blanca, who is now the same woman from the prologue, talking. She says that she had been split from Pedro Tercero a long time, but now she had graduated, they can finally be together. We see the grown up Blanca (Winona Ryder) coming home to Três Marias in a car, with graduation vests on. After dinner, Blanca goes out to the back yard, where she meets the grown up Pedro Tercero (Antonio Banderas). They kiss, talk and Blanca leaves. The next day, Esteban Trueba catches Pedro Tercero preaching revolutionary ideas to the peasant people. He punishes him by making his father hold him as he whips his back. Pedro Tercero is run out of the Três Marias.

At dinner, as the Trueba family is eating, Férula appears. She walks into the house, and despite Blanca's urges to talk to her, Clara holds her back. Férula kisses Clara and walks out the door. Clara says Férula is dead. The family runs out to the street to see if she's there but she isn't. They go to church to ask the priest about her. The priest says Férula never took the money Esteban sent her, and shows the family where Férula was living. They go into the poor, small house, and find Férula dead on the bed. Clara asks to be alone with her. She talks to her, bathes her and finally repays all the love Férula has given her. Férula has a splendid funeral. Blanca continues meeting Pedro Tercero.

A foreign count, Jean de Satigny arrives in the region, and he stays at Três Marias. Clara can't find the count in her Tarot Cards, and she can't pronounce his last name. The count's past is strange, and he eventually asks for Blanca's hand in marriage. Although her father wants her to accept, Blanca turns Jean down. The count is intrigued by Blanca's strange behavior, and follows her as she climbs out at night and goes to meet Pedro Tercero by the river. The count watches as they make love, and then goes to reveal Blanca's lover to her father. When he finds out, he goes in his horse to the river, and meets Blanca walking back to the house. He whips his daughter, until she falls. He bring Blanca home and punishes her, promising to kill Pedro Tercero for driving his daughter to this. Upon hearing this, Clara tells Esteban Trueba that Pedro Tercero didn't do anything he ( Esteban ) hadn't done, only he had done it for love and not desire. Esteban is so irritated he punches Clara in the face. When Clara rises, she coldly tells him that she will never speak to him again, then walking away. Later, Segundo, Esteban's loyal helper and Pedro's father, leaves, stating he doesn't want to be here when Esteban Trueba finds his son.

Clara moves with Blanca to her parents' house in the capital. Blanca eventually finds out she is pregnant. Esteban then tries to force a wedding between Jean de Satigny and Blanca, so as to not have any bastards in the family. He encourages his daughter by telling her that Pedro Tercero is dead. Blanca angrily refuses, and goes to her room, where she cries for hours. Clara eventually comes to comfort Blanca, tell her that she is proud of her decision to not marry Jean, and finally tells her not to cry, Pedro Tercero is still alive, she saw this in a dream. Blanca won't see him for a long time now, he has to hide. Blanca stops crying and hugs her mother.

Meanwhile, Esteban is alone in Três Marias. He blames Pedro Tercero for everything, and is offering a reward for whoever can take him to Pedro's hiding place. Esteban Garcia (Vincent Gallo), Esteban Trueba's bastard son, states he can take him to Pedro's hiding place. At this point, it appears Trueba doesn't remember Garcia is his bastard son. Garcia takes Esteban to Pedro, and Esteban tries to kill Pedro, unsuccessfully. When Garcia asks for his reward, Esteban Trueba angrily says traitors don't get rewards. Garcia walks away angrily crying in rage.

Revolution

The next scene shows Esteban arriving at Clara and Blanca's house. He talks to Clara, who silently answers him. He says he doesn't want to live in Três Marias anymore, and asks if he can stay at their house. He also says that it occurred to him that he has never seen his granddaughter. Clara then leads him to the bedroom, where a little girl is sleeping. Her name is Alba.

We then see Alba at her birthday, happily blowing the seven candles on her cake. We see how much Esteban cares about Alba, and also how he constantly keeps feuding with Blanca. Alba is also revealed to have her grandmother's same paranormal powers of telekinessis. Clara communicates with Esteban by saying "Would you tell my husband that...". While the family is celebrating Alba's birthday, Esteban Garcia knocks on the door. Blanca answers, not recognizing the man who abused her as a child. Garcia asks to talk to Esteban Trueba. Esteban Trueba is asked by his bastard son to help him get into the military academy. Garcia addresses Trueba as another peasant worker from Três Marias, which is what Trueba believes he is. Trueba says he will help him, and gives him a recommendation slip. Garcia leaves, and shoots a glance at the family, happily celebrating.

Esteban is going to run for Senator by the Conservative Party. When he goes to Clara to ask her if she think he will win, she says yes. Esteban is very happy about this, and he and Clara become good friends, although she still won't talk to him, instead communicating through other family members and signs.

Some time after, Blanca and her father argue in front of the TV about the People's Party, who seems to be on the verge to victory in the presidential election. Later on, the People's Party wins the election. While Esteban grieves, Blanca goes out on the street to celebrate and meets Pedro Tercero. The two kiss and celebrate together for the rest of the night.

A few days later, Pedro is waiting at an Ice Cream Shop, where Blanca brings Alba. Young Alba whispers something in Blanca's ear, and she leaves her daughter alone with her father. Blanca and Pedro are able to meet regularly now, and things seem to be perfect.

Meanwhile, Alba and her grandmother Clara are setting up a Christmas tree. Clara feels she is leaving this world, and decides to prepare for death. She gives Alba notebooks and jewelry to give to Blanca. Kissing Alba goodbye, Clara dies. When Blanca and Esteban arrive in a car, Alba goes out to tell them grandma is dead. The three hug and cry together.

However, conspiracy on part of the Conservative party eventually leads up to the coup d'état. Although Esteban seems happy, believing it is for the good of the country and that the military will hand the power back to the Conservative Party, he proves himself wrong. The military does not hand the power back, and a Military Dictatorship is started. All those related with the People's Party or other socialist and communist movements are captured, tortured and killed.

Blanca is highly involved, and eventually the Political Police comes to arrest her for being with Pedro Tercero. Blanca asks only for her father to take care that they do not catch Pedro Tercero, now hiding in their house. She says Alba needs her father, and asks Esteban to find a way to get him out safely.

Blanca is tortured and abused by her half-brother Esteban Garcia, now a member of the military. She nevertheless refuses to reveal where Pedro is. She is put in a cell, where Clara's spirit appears to tell her not to wish for death.

Esteban attends to his daughter's wishes and helps Pedro Tercero to find exile in Canada, despite Pedro's reluctance. In the end, the pair finally mend their relationship, and Esteban asks Pedro to take good care of Alba and Blanca. After a long time in which Blanca is not released, Esteban becomes desperate, and asks an old prostitute friend of his, now an influential lady, to help get Blanca out. She succeeds, and in the morning a beaten and dirty Blanca arrives at the house, to kiss her daughter gratefully and find her father anxiously awaiting her. He tells her about Pedro who is waiting for her in Canada, and she happily hugs him.

Epilogue

Blanca takes her father to the old house in Tres Marías. This is the same scene from the beginning of the movie. Esteban, left alone in side the house. Clara's spirit comes to help him die.

Blanca sits outside and ponders on her life. To her, life now is Pedro, Alba and just living has become so important. They are leaving for Canada the following day. While Alba plays in the front door with the leaves swirling in the wind, the movie ends.

Differences Between the Movie and the Novel

  • Clara did not fall in love with Esteban the first time she saw him. In the book, in fact, she says she never loved him at all.
  • In the novel, it is stated Clara was the fifteenth child of her parents, of which eleven were alive. However, in the film, Clara's only mentioned sister is Rosa.
  • Nana, Clara's nanny as a child and later nanny to her children, is not named or mentioned in the movie. The Del Valle's unnamed Indian servant plays some of her roles in the book.
  • Clara's idol Uncle Marcos is also not mentioned at all in the movie.
  • Esteban's hacienda was a family heritage.
  • In the book, Esteban stays at Tres Marías 9 years, rather than 20.
  • Pancha Garcia, the woman Esteban raped, was sister to Segundo in the book. This is not mentioned in the movie. Esteban also raped many other women during his stay in Las Tres Marías, and even after his marriage. This is not mentioned either.
  • Clara's powers in the movie differ from the book, where she can also talk to ghosts.
  • In the book, Esteban and Clara go on a honeymoon after marrying, and move into a house in the capital, not Las Tres Marías. Later, when going to spend a summer at Tres Marías, Clara likes it and decides to stay.
  • Clara is not supposed to know about her parent's death in the book, as Esteban believes it will threaten her pregnancy, but she find out in a dream, whereas in the movie she is quickly told.
  • Clara also has two twin sons in the book, Jaime and Nicolás.
  • Nicolás had a lover in the book named Amanda, with whom Jaime was also in love. Amanda was absent from the movie.
  • Esteban García, Esteban's bastard son, hardly has a role in the novel. It is Esteban's bastard grandson (also named Esteban García) who has the important role.
  • Pedro Tercero plays the guitar in the book, and sings a song about the Chickens and the Fox. In the movie, the song is transformed into a story he tells at Clara's school, and he does not play the guitar.
  • Blanca is not sent to a boarding school in the book: instead, Esteban and Clara move back to the capital, where Blanca spends the year, going to Las Tres Marías for summer. During her teenage years, after an earthquake which causes her parents to stay in Las Tres Marías, Blanca, now in a boarding school, fakes an illness so she can go live in Las Tres Marías too.
  • The tremendous earthquake that happens in Las Tres Marías and cause some 10000 casualties in the whole country is absent from the movie.
  • In the book, Clara and Blanca move to the capital house after Esteban hits Clara, not Clara's parents' house.
  • Esteban's revenge towards Pedro Tercero in the book is partially successful: he manages to cut off three of Pedro's fingers.
  • Blanca actually does marry the Count Jean de Satigny in the book, but leaves his house still pregnant when she discovers his love towards pornography, especially using the Indian servants.
  • Alba is born in Clara's capital house, and Clara predicts good luck and happiness in her future.
  • It is Alba and not Blanca who is pampered by Esteban.
  • Esteban Garcia's abuses of Blanca as a child happen to Alba in the actual novel. He also kisses her forcefully in the mouth at her fourteenth birthday, when coming to ask for Esteban to give him a reference to get into the military.
  • Blanca and Pedro manage to meet before the People's Party win in the book.
  • In the book, Alba is introduced to her father earlier, but knows him only as her mother's lover and a good friend, believing the count to be her father.
  • In the novel, Alba is a teenager during the Coup, and is going to university, while in the movie she is a child.
  • Miguel, Amanda's brother and later Alba's lover, who is a revolutionist, is absent in the movie.
  • Alba participates in various revolutionist manifestations before and after the Coup, due to her link with Miguel. Blanca, in the novel, has little interest in these.
  • Alba is arrested by the Political Police for dating Miguel, and is tortured and abused by Esteban Garcia in the novel. She then wishes for death, and Clara's spirit comes to tell her not to. She is later released with the help of an old prostitute. This whole sequence happens to Blanca in the movie, with the difference that she is arrested for dating Pedro Tercero.
  • In the novel, Blanca and Pedro Tercero leave for Canada alone, Alba does not come with them. In the movie Pedro Tercero goes to Canada alone: Blanca will reach him only after Esteban's death, and Alba will go with her mother.
  • In the novel, Esteban dies in the capital house, with Alba by his side, confusing her with Clara and Rosa, instead of alone in Las Tres Marías with Clara's spirit.
  • Alba is pregnant at the end of the novel, but she doesn't know if the child is Miguel's or Esteban Garcia's. Blanca's character in the movie, who takes over most of Alba's role, is not pregnant and decides to leave the nation, whereas Alba, in the novel, wants to remain until she can.

The main difference is that Alba's role is minimized, and Blanca takes over most of that role:

  • Being pampered by Esteban Trueba as a child.
  • Being abused by Esteban Garcia as a child.
  • Being involved in the rebel and revolutionist demonstrations due to a romantic link.
  • Being arrested because of said romantic link.
  • Being tortured and abused by Esteban Garcia, to be later released with the help of the old prostitute.

However, Blanca also plays her novel role in the movie such as:

  • Her involvement with Pedro.
  • The fight she has with her father and that makes him slap Clara.
  • The bastard child she has.
  • Meeting Pedro as a lover.
  • Hiding Pedro during the Coup, and later going into exile with him.

This combination of two roles into Blanca was probably done to shorten the movie in length.

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