The House of the Spirits (film)

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The House of the Spirits
The House of Spirits Poster.jpg
Promotional poster (US)
Directed by Bille August
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Written by Isabel Allende (novel)
Bille August (screenplay)
Starring Meryl Streep
Glenn Close
Jeremy Irons
Winona Ryder
Antonio Banderas
Vanessa Redgrave
Music by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography Jörgen Persson
Edited by Janus Billeskov Jansen
Distributed by Miramax Films (US)
Release dates
October 17, 1993 (Germany)
April 1, 1994 (US)
Running time
140 minutes
Country Germany
Language English
Budget $40 million[1]
Box office $6,265,311 (US)[1]

The House of the Spirits is a 1993 German-Danish-Portuguese period drama directed by Bille August and starring Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Winona Ryder, Antonio Banderas and Vanessa Redgrave. The supporting cast includes María Conchita Alonso, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Jan Niklas.

Based on the 1982 novel La Casa de los Espíritus by Isabel Allende, the film is about the life of a young lady named Clara during the military dictatorship in Chile, and her recollection of her family history, mainly the rise of her husband, Esteban Trueba. The film won some awards, (Bavarian Film Awards, German Film Awards, the Golden Screen (Germany), Havana Film Festival, and Robert Festival (Denmark), the German Phono Academy and the Guild of German Art House Cinemas).[2]



A young woman, Blanca Trueba (Winona Ryder), arrives at a house with an old man, whom she leads inside to a chair. The young woman starts remembering her life.

Clara and Esteban

Blanca's mother, Clara del Valle (Meryl Streep), wasn’t sure about her feelings for Esteban Trueba the first time she saw him, because she was still a child. Esteban Trueba (Jeremy Irons) had come to propose to Clara's sister, Rosa del Valle. Esteban left his fiancée with her family to earn money for their wedding. Clara has special psychic powers. One day, she has a vision and tells her sister Rosa that there will be a death in the family. The next day, Rosa dies after drinking poison intended for her father, Senator Severo. Clara blames herself for her sister's death, and after watching her sister's autopsy, 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 leaves for his newly bought hacienda, Tres Marías. He finds many natives living on his land and tells them to work for him for food and shelter. For the next twenty years, Esteban makes Tres Marías an example of a successful Hacienda. He spends some nights with Tránsito, a prostitute (María Conchita Alonso), to whom he loans money so she can start a new career in the capital. One day he rapes a peasant girl, Pancha García (Sarita Choudhury), who works for him.

Twenty years later, Esteban receives a letter stating his mother has died. After her funeral, Esteban decides to ask for Clara's hand, despite Férula's protests that Clara is too sickly and will not take care of him properly. When he shows up at the Del Valle family's house, Clara asks him right away if he has come to ask her to marry him, thus speaking again for the first time in twenty years. Esteban confirms he is there to marry Clara.

Férula meets Clara at a coffee shop to talk to her about her own future, and Clara, sensing Férula's worries, promises her that she can live with her and Esteban in Tres Marías after the wedding and the two will be like sisters. Férula is overwhelmed with happiness, realising she has found a friend in her new sister-in-law, the first person who has been actually kind to her. Sometime 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. She realises that she is feeling much more for Clara than she should. Esteban senses this and is resentful of Férula's interference in his family.

Clara's parents are killed in a terrible accident on the way to visit their pregnant daughter. Soon after, Clara gives birth to a girl as she predicted, and names her Blanca. Some years later, Pancha García appears at the family house with her and Esteban's illegitimate teenage son, Esteban García. She asks for money and tells Esteban Trueba that he cannot get rid of her and his son. Esteban Trueba is very annoyed and goes back to play with Blanca (Hannah Taylor-Gordon). Esteban García comes back to the house later when no one is looking. He finds the child Blanca and begins to molest her. Férula calls Blanca's name and Esteban García runs away.

Clara has been giving classes to the peasant children and Blanca. Pedro Tercero, the little son of the peasant Segundo at Tres Marias befriends Blanca, and after school she goes out to play with him. The two are gone for hours, and Esteban Trueba, Férula, and Clara start worrying. The two children are eventually found playing in the lagoon. Esteban Trueba does not like that his daughter is playing with a peasant boy and decides to send Blanca to a boarding school.

Blanca and Pedro Tercero

After graduating from school, Blanca returns home to Tres Marías. That night she goes out to the lagoon and meets a grown up Pedro Tercero (Antonio Banderas), and they talk and kiss. That same night, while Esteban attends a political party, there is an earthquake, he worries about Clara and Blanca and drives all the way to Tres Marías and finds that Férula has climbed into bed with Clara. He is so angry that he throws Férula out of the house telling her never to step close to his family again. Clara overhears him threatening his sister and feels sad and disappointed.

Sometime later, Esteban brings the French Count Jean de Satigny (Jan Niklas) to his home intending to arrange a marriage between him and Blanca. Clara senses that the French "nobleman" is a fraud while reading cards but Esteban dismisses her as folly. While Satigny is still visiting, Esteban catches Pedro preaching revolutionary ideas to the peasant people, and punishes him with a fierce whipping and banishing him from Tres Marías. That night at dinner, Férula suddenly appears in the house, kisses Clara on the forehead and leaves again. Clara tells the rest of the family that Férula is dead. Clara and Esteban drive into town to Férula's modest house, where they find her dead on the bed.

Pedro has returned to Tres Marías and talks to the peasants about their rights and nearly gets shot by Esteban. That night, the Count Jean de Satigny, who is visiting again, watches Blanca and Pedro meeting secretly at the lagoon. He reveals Blanca's lover to her father who immediately drags Blanca back to the house. Esteban promises to kill Pedro. When Clara tries to persuade him against violence, Esteban hits his wife and she falls. When Clara rises, she coldly tells him that she will never speak to him again. Clara moves with Blanca to her parents' house in the capital.

Now alone in Tres Marías, Esteban blames Pedro for everything, and offers a reward to anyone who will lead him to Pedro's hiding place. Esteban García (Vincent Gallo) takes him to where Pedro is hiding and Esteban tries to kill him, but he is unsuccessful. When García asks for his reward, Esteban Trueba replies that traitors do not get rewards, and García walks away in anger.

After Blanca discovers she is pregnant, Esteban tries to force a wedding between Count Jean de Satigny and Blanca, so as to not have any bastards in the family. He tries to convince his daughter by telling her that Pedro Tercero is dead. Blanca agrees because her mother eventually comforts her by telling her that it is better for her to get married with Satigny.


Some years later, Esteban is busy with his political career, but as an old man he is lonely and finds comfort in the arms of Tránsito, who has actually raised in her profession and is now in a position to pay back Esteban for some money that he lent her, but he prefers to collect the favor another time. He comes to Clara's house to apologize and asks her if he can stay with her and to show him his granddaughter Alba whom he has never seen before. Although he moves in with them, Clara still does not talk to him and he constantly keeps feuding with Blanca. While the family is celebrating Alba's birthday, Esteban García arrives at their home. Blanca does not recognize the man who abused her as a child. García tells Esteban Trueba that his mother is dead and asks to help him get into the military academy, reminding him of the reward he never received. Trueba writes him a cheque.

During the national election, Esteban believes his Conservative Party will win as usual, but the People's Front ends up winning control of the government. While Esteban grieves, Blanca goes out on the street to celebrate and to meet Pedro. The two kiss and celebrate together for the rest of the night. A few days later, Pedro is able to meet his daughter Alba for the first time with her mother at an ice-cream parlour. Blanca and Pedro are able to meet regularly now, and things seem to be perfect. Their happiness, however, is short-lived. While Clara and Alba are setting up their Christmas tree, Clara feels she is leaving this world and decides to prepare for death. She gives Alba her notebooks and jewelry to give to Blanca. Kissing Alba goodbye, Clara dies. When Blanca and Esteban arrive home, Alba tells them of Clara's death, and the three of them hug and cry together.

Meanwhile, a conspiracy between some Conservative Party members and the military leads to a coup d'état, and the military takes control of the country. At first Esteban believes it is good for the country and that the military will hand power back to the Conservative Party, but he soon learns that the military have other plans. Under the control of the military, people associated with the People's Party are captured and even killed. Blanca is highly involved and eventually the police come to arrest her for being with Pedro Tercero. Blanca quickly reveals to her father that Pedro has been hiding in their house's cellar and begs him to help Pedro get out of the country.

In the coming days, Blanca is tortured and abused by her half-brother Esteban García, now an important member of the military. She nevertheless refuses to reveal Pedro's whereabouts. She is put in a cell where Clara's spirit appears to tell her not to wish for death. Meanwhile, Esteban honours his daughter's wishes and helps Pedro Tercero find exile in Canada. Esteban then tries to free his daughter from prison, turning to Tránsito, now an influential Madam with lots of connections, who helps free Blanca. One morning a beaten and dirty Blanca arrives at her home. Esteban is shocked to see his daughter in such a state and her wish for revenge against the military, and understands for the first time the consequences of his political actions.


Blanca and Esteban return to Tres Marías with Alba. Esteban is finally visited by Clara's spirit who has come to help the old man to the next world. Afterwards, Blanca sits outside and ponders her life, in which she gives up her attempt for revenge and now focuses on Pedro and her daughter Alba. She watches Alba playing in the front door with the leaves swirling in the wind.



Principal photography took place in Denmark, but some scenes were filmed in Lisbon and Alentejo, Portugal.


The music was composed by award winner Hans Zimmer. Additionally, two songs appear in the film: "La Paloma", a Spanish–Cuban–Mexican tune sung by popular Chilean singer Rosita Serrano; and "La Cumparsita", a classic Uruguayan tango tune performed by German bandleader Adalbert Lutter and his orchestra.[4]


The film grossed $6 million in the United States and more than $55 million in Europe.[5] It was also not well received by critics (two oft-cited reasons were its diffusely episodic structure and a cast of mostly American & European actors in Latin American roles) and currently holds a 'rotten' 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 34 reviews. Despite this, however, it received several awards:

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 1994 Bavarian Film Award for Best Costume Design (Barbara Baum) Won
  • 1994 Bavarian Film Award for Best Production (Bernd Eichinger) Won
  • 1994 German Film Award in Gold for Outstanding Individual Achievement: Over All Concept (Bernd Eichinger) Won
  • 1994 German Phono Academy Echo Award for Film Music of the Year (Hans Zimmer) Won
  • 1994 Guild of German Art House Cinemas Award (Gold) for German Film (Bille August) Won
  • 1994 Havana Film Festival Coral Award for Best Work of a Non-Latin American Director on a Latin America Subject (Bille August) Won
  • 1994 Robert Award for Best Editing (Janus Billeskov Jansen) Won
  • 1994 Robert Award for Best Film (Bille August) Won
  • 1994 Robert Award for Best Screenplay (Bille August) Won
  • 1994 Robert Award for Best Sound (Niels Arild) Won[6]


  1. ^ a b "The House of the Spirits (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 15, 2011. 
  2. ^ "The House of the Spirits". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 16, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Full cast and crew for The House of the Spirits". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 16, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Soundtracks for The House of the Spirits". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 22, 2010. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Awards for The House of the Spirits". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 16, 2012. 

External links[edit]