The House of the Spirits (film)

Last updated

The House of the Spirits
The House of Spirits Poster.jpg
Promotional poster (US)
Directed by Bille August
Written byBille August
Based on The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
CinematographyJörgen Persson
Edited byJanus Billeskov Jansen
Music by Hans Zimmer
Distributed byNeue Constantin Film (Germany) [1]
Warner Bros. (Denmark; through Sandrew Metronome) [2]
Release date
17 October 1993 (Germany)
Running time
140 minutes
Budget$40 million [3]
Box office$6,265,311 (US) [3] $55 million (Europe) [4]

The House of the Spirits (Danish: Åndernes hus) is a 1993 period drama film 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 of the same name by Isabel Allende, the film follows three generations of women from a Chilean family during the country’s military dictatorship.


Although the film won several awards in Europe, including Best Film at the Lola Awards from the German Film Academy and the Robert Award from the Danish Film Academy, in America it was regarded as a critical and commercial failure.


The story is narrated by Blanca Trueba, a young woman from a powerful Chilean family.


Blanca's mother, Clara del Valle is a child from a well-off family in Santiago whose father is running for the Senate. Clara possesses clairvoyant abilities and foresees her own marriage to Esteban Trueba, a miner.

Esteban uses the gold he found from mining to buy a hacienda, Tres Marías. He employs natives to work as peasants on the dilapidated land, eventually turning Tres Marías into a successful estate through his use of brute force. One day while horseback riding through the countryside, he sees a peasant girl, Pancha García. Esteban rapes Pancha, resulting in the illegitimate birth of a boy. He also spends nights with Tránsito, a local prostitute to whom he lends money so she can start a new career in the capital.


Twenty years later, Esteban’s sister Férula informs him that their ailing mother has died. At his mother’s funeral, Esteban sees a grown Clara and reacquaints himself with her. The couple marry, and Clara and Férula become especially close, with Clara allowing Férula to come live with her and her new husband at Tres Marías.

Clara eventually gives birth to a girl, naming her Blanca. One day, Pancha García appears at the family estate with her now teenaged son, Esteban García, asking his father for money. Esteban Trueba gives them some money but harshly turns them away. Esteban’s rejection leads his son to nurse a resentment against his father and Blanca.

Meanwhile, Blanca befriends one of the peasant children, Pedro Tercero, the young son of Esteban's foreman Segundo. Esteban disapproves of his daughter playing with a peasant boy and sends her to a boarding school.


After graduating from boarding school, Blanca returns to Tres Marías and reunites with Pedro, meeting him by the river every night. Férula continues to live with the family and has become a rival to her brother for Clara’s affections. Esteban throws Férula out of the house when he catches her and Clara asleep in the same bed. Before leaving, Férula curses Esteban to eternal loneliness.

Esteban catches Pedro preaching revolutionary ideas that are critical of wealthy landowners like him to the peasant workers. He punishes Pedro with a whipping and banishment from Tres Marías. That night at dinner, Clara and Blanca see a vision of Férula while having dinner. Férula kisses Clara on the forehead before calmly walking out. Realizing Férula has died, Clara drives into town to find Férula dead in her modest home. In a moment alone with Férula, Clara tells her how much she and Blanca miss her, and how proud she would be of Blanca.

Blanca continues to meet Pedro in secret. Jean de Satigny, a French nobleman who aspires to go into business with Esteban, sees Blanca and Pedro in a tryst at the river and rats her out to her father. Esteban punishes Blanca by whipping her and vows to go after Pedro. He strikes Clara when she points out his hypocrisy—having himself slept with women not of his own class—after which Clara vows never to speak to him again. She leaves Tres Marías with Blanca to live in Santiago.

Esteban offers a monetary reward for anyone who can reveal Pedro's whereabouts to him. Esteban García, unrecognized by his father, aids in helping to find Pedro. Pedro is able to escape from Esteban, who declines to give a reward to his son. Esteban later learns Blanca is pregnant with Pedro's child, and he goes to her house to falsely tell her that he murdered Pedro. Clara makes Esteban leave and reassures Blanca that Pedro is indeed alive, but they won't be reunited for some time because he needs to flee to safety. Years later, Esteban goes to Clara and apologizes for his actions. Though she maintains some distance from him, she does allow him to meet their seven-year-old granddaughter Alba and to be a part of her and Blanca’s lives again.


Esteban is now a senator in the Conservative Party, while Pedro is a leader with the People's Front. Despite Esteban’s success, he is lonely and finds comfort in the arms of Tránsito, who now runs a high-class prostitution establishment. Esteban believes his party will win the election as usual, but the People’s Front ends up gaining control of the government. Clara passes away after gently explaining to Alba that she has always been in touch with spirits on the other side and will be in contact with the rest of the family.

A conspiracy between Conservative Party members and the military leads to a coup d'état, and the military seizes control of the country. Under military control, people associated with the People's Party are captured and even killed. The police come and arrest Blanca for her association with Pedro Tercero. Before Blanca is taken away, she tells Esteban that Pedro is the love of her life, just as Clara was his. She appeals to Esteban to use his political influence to help find asylum for Pedro outside Chile so the three of them can be a family. In the coming days, Blanca is tortured and sexually abused by her half-brother, Esteban García, who had joined the military with his father's help.

Esteban decides to honor his daughter's wishes and helps to find exile for Pedro in Canada. He also turns to Tránsito, who as an influential Madam has connections to high-level military figures, to help free Blanca. One morning, a beaten Blanca finally arrives back at her home. A grateful Esteban tells her that Pedro is waiting for her and Alba in Canada, and hopes his help can make up for the damage his actions wrought on his family.


Blanca and the elderly Esteban return to Tres Marías with Alba. Esteban is finally visited by Clara's spirit, who has come to help the old man on to the next world. Blanca sits outside and ponders her life, looking forward to a future with Pedro and their daughter. She reflects on how she does not want to live her life with anger or hatred—instead, she wishes to move forward and be happy.




Author Isabel Allende received numerous offers from producers and agents to adapt her novel The House of the Spirits upon publication in 1982, but did not agree to option the work until Danish filmmaker Bille August convinced her with his vision for the film. [5] In January 1993, Miramax acquired North American distribution rights for the film. [6]


Controversy occurred over the casting of predominantly white English-speaking actors in a Latin American period film. Producer Bernd Eichinger defended the decision on the basis that the film needed internationally recognized actors. [5] The film’s premiere in the U.S. was met with protests from Latino actors over the casting issue. [4]


Principal photography took place in Denmark, with some scenes filmed in Lisbon and Alentejo, Portugal, from January 1993 to April. [4] [7]


The film premiered in Germany in October 1993 as a 145-minute theatrical cut that was also released in Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Scandinavia. [7] The film was released in the United States on April 1, 1994 in a 132-minute cut version. [7]


The film has a 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 38 reviews. The website’s consensus states: "An enviable collection of sterling actors are all woefully miscast in The House of the Spirits, a plodding saga of magical realism that lacks much magic or realism." [8] Two oft-cited reasons for the poor critical reception were its diffusely episodic structure [9] and the casting of mostly Anglo actors in Latin American roles. [10]

The film grossed $6 million in the United States and more than $55 million in Europe. [4]

Angle Errigo of Empire gave The House of the Spirits two out of five stars and stated that: "If this had been a Latin American production, one might have been more generous towards the fumblings of a fairly fetching saga; given the talents involved, the film's hesitations in style and consistent failure to really move must be counted as a major disappointment." [11]

Awards and nominations

The film won multiple awards: Bavarian Film Awards, German Film Awards, the Golden Screen (Germany), Havana Film Festival, and Robert Awards (Denmark), the German Phono Academy, and the Guild of German Art House Cinemas. [12]

Year-end worst-of lists


The music for the film 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.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bille August</span> Danish film director and screenwriter

Bille AugustRD is a Danish director, screenwriter, and cinematographer of film and television. In a career spanning over four decades, he has been the recipient of numerous accolades, making him one of the most acclaimed contemporary Danish filmmakers.

<i>All About My Mother</i> 1999 film by Pedro Almodóvar

All About My Mother is a 1999 comedy-drama film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, and starring Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Candela Peña, Antonia San Juan, Penélope Cruz and Rosa Maria Sardà.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Goya Awards</span> Annual film awards in Spain

The Goya Awards are Spain's main national annual film awards, commonly referred to as the Academy Awards of Spain.

<i>The House of the Spirits</i> Novel by Isabel Allende

The House of the Spirits is the debut novel of Isabel Allende. The novel was rejected by several Spanish-language publishers before being published in Buenos Aires in 1982. It became an instant best-seller, was critically acclaimed, and catapulted Allende to literary stardom. The novel was named Best Novel of the Year in Chile in 1982, and Allende received the country's Panorama Literario award. The House of the Spirits has been translated into over 20 languages.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pernilla August</span> Swedish actress and film director

Pernilla August is a Swedish actress, director and screenwriter. Being one of Sweden's leading actresses and a longtime collaborator with director Ingmar Bergman, she won the Best Actress Award at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival for her role in his The Best Intentions. She is best known internationally for portraying Shmi Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blanca de Castejón</span> Puerto Rican actress

Blanca de Castejón was a Puerto Rican actress who is best remembered for her work in the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, especially her award-winning supporting role in Escuela de vagabundos. She was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and died in Mexico City.

Hannah Taylor-Gordon is a retired English actress. She made her film debut in the 1993 film The House of the Spirits. She is best known for her role as Anne Frank in the TV miniseries Anne Frank: The Whole Story for which she received both an Emmy and a Golden Globe nomination.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pedro Infante</span> Mexican actor and singer (1917–1957)

Pedro Infante Cruz was a Mexican ranchera music singer and actor, whose career spanned the golden age of Mexican cinema. His popularity spread across Latin America.

<i>El Amor no Tiene Precio</i> Mexican telenovela

El amor no tiene precio is a Mexican telenovela produced by Alfredo Schwarz for Televisa and Univision in co-production with Fonovideo. It premiered on September 26, 2005 and ended on October 10, 2006.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sílvia Munt</span> Spanish actress and film director

Silvia Munt Quevedo, is a Spanish actress and film director. She has won two Goya Award, Best Actress for her role in Alas de mariposa, and Best Short Documentary, Lalia, written and directed by Munt. She has a sister and two brothers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blanca Estela Pavón</span> Mexican film actress and singer (1926–1949)

María Blanca Estela Pavón Vasconcelos was a Mexican film actress and singer of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.

<i>The Truce</i> (1974 film) 1974 film

The Truce is a 1974 Argentine romantic drama film directed by Sergio Renán and based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Mario Benedetti. It was the first Argentine film to be nominated for an Academy Award.

<i>Year of Enlightment</i> 1986 Spanish film

Year of Enlightment is a 1986 Spanish film directed by Fernando Trueba, starring Jorge Sanz and Maribel Verdú. The film is a coming of age story of a sixteen-year-old boy finding love and sex in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The film was awarded the Silver Bear at the 37th Berlin International Film Festival.

<i>Marisol</i> (Mexican TV series) Mexican TV series or program

Marisol is a Mexican telenovela produced by Juan Osorio for Televisa in 1996. Telenovela is a remake of the 1977 Mexican telenovela Marcha nupcial. Famous and beloved Enrique Álvarez Félix died after he finished his work in Marisol.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clara (given name)</span> Name list

Clara or Klara is a female given name. It is the feminine form of the Late Latin name Clarus which meant "clear, bright, famous". Various early male Christian saints were named Clarus; the feminine form became popular after the 13th-century Saint Clare of Assisi, one of the followers of Saint Francis, who renounced her privileged background and founded the order of Poor Clares.

Carol's Journey is a 2002 Spanish-Portuguese drama film directed by Imanol Uribe which stars Clara Lago and Juan José Ballesta alongside Álvaro de Luna, María Barranco, Carmelo Gómez and Rosa María Sardá. The plot concerns a Spanish-American girl's visit to her family's hometown during the Spanish Civil War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Miriam Díaz Aroca</span> Spanish actress and television presenter

Margarita Miriam Díaz Aroca is a Spanish actress and television presenter.

<i>El ministerio del tiempo</i> Spanish television series

El ministerio del tiempo is a Spanish fantasy television series created by Javier and Pablo Olivares and produced by Onza Partners and Cliffhanger for Televisión Española (TVE). It premiered on 24 February 2015 on TVE's main channel La 1. The series follows the exploits of an investigative team in the fictional Ministry of Time, which deals with incidents caused by time travel that can cause changes to the present day.

<i>Tiempo de morir</i> 1966 film directed by Arturo Ripstein

Tiempo de Morir is a 1966 Mexican Western film directed by Arturo Ripstein and starring Marga López and Jorge Martínez de Hoyos. Screenplay was written by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Marquez and novelist Carlos Fuentes, their first realized film.

La razón de la culpa is a 1942 film directed by Juan José Ortega who also directed Corazón salvaje. The film stars Blanca de Castejón, Andrés Soler and María Elena Marqués as well as Pedro Infante as Roberto. This was one of Ricardo Montalban's first films.


  1. "Das Geisterhaus (1993)". . Retrieved 22 October 2021.
  2. "Das Geisterhaus (1993)". Danish Film Database . Retrieved 22 October 2021.
  3. 1 2 "The House of the Spirits (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 14 June 2021. Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Fox, David J. (4 April 1994). "'House of Spirits' Fails to Levitate : Movies: The star-studded film does poorly in its U.S. opening, despite heavy publicity and strong European sales". Los Angeles Times . Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  5. 1 2 Simpson, Blaise (27 March 1994). "MOVIES : The Mystical Isabel Allende". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  6. Cohn, Lawrence (27 January 1993). "Miramax picks up 'Spirits'". Variety . Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  7. 1 2 3 "The House of the Spirits". Turner Classic Movie Database . Retrieved 25 July 2022.
  8. "The House of the Spirits". Rotten Tomatoes . Archived from the original on 12 June 2015. Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  9. Ebert, Roger (1 April 1994). "The House of the Spirits". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 29 September 2020. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  10. Levy, Emanuel. (30 December 2005) "House of the Spirits: Misfire–Bille August Directs All-Star (Miscast)," Archived 1 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  11. Errigo, Angle (1 January 2000). "The House of the Spirits Review". Empire . Archived from the original on 14 June 2021. Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  12. "The House of the Spirits - Awards". IMDb. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  13. Lovell, Glenn (25 December 1994). "The Past Picture Show the Good, the Bad and the Ugly -- a Year Worth's of Movie Memories". San Jose Mercury News (Morning Final ed.). p. 3.
  14. Mills, Michael (30 December 1994). "It's a Fact: 'Pulp Fiction' Year's Best". The Palm Beach Post (Final ed.). p. 7.
  15. Travers, Peter (29 December 1994). "The Best and Worst Movies of 1994". Rolling Stone . Archived from the original on 25 January 2021. Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  16. Mayo, Mike (30 December 1994). "The Hits and Misses at the Movies in '94". The Roanoke Times (Metro ed.). p. 1.
  17. Elliott, David (25 December 1994). "On the big screen, color it a satisfying time". The San Diego Union-Tribune (1, 2 ed.). p. E8.