Missing girls expose town's threadbare soul

Marshland (MA). Director: Alberto Rodríguez. Starring: Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Arévalo. 104 minutes

This brooding crime thriller cleaned up at last year's Goya Awards — the Spanish Oscars — and it is easy to see why. Set in a threadbare agrarian township on Spain's Guadalquivir Marshes, it is superbly executed and, like the best crime fiction, builds a compelling story on a layer of socio-political subtext.

World-weary detectives Juan (Gutiérrez) and Pedro (Arévalo) arrive in the town to investigate the disappearance of two teenage sisters. But their investigation among the town's various innocents, eccentrics and reprobates uncovers a much larger, sinister burr within the very soul of the town. 

The film is steeped in a near mystical sense of dread. Juan is ill, but seems less perturbed by the blood and agony that accompanies urination, than by the birds that haunt him with forebodings of doom. He and Pedro both seem alienated from the world as they wander the town's nearly alien landscape.

Cinematographer Alex Catalán capitalises on the marshland's claustrophobic open spaces, his camerawork punctuated by exquisite aerial shots by digital compositor Israel Millán, working from photographs by Hector Garrido. There is a sense the events are overseen by some disinterested deity.

The story takes place in 1980 — five years after Spain's transition to democracy. The smell of fascism lingers thickly in the atmosphere over this rural wasteland, where law enforcement is often corrupt, downtrodden fathers wittingly imperil the wellbeing of their offspring, and children dream of escape.

It stifles the air between Juan and Pedro. The former has fascist roots and retains a fascist bent (of the pair, his methods are the more brutal); Pedro has gained notoriety by exercising his democratic rights in penning a provocative, political letter-to-the-editor. Grudging respect echoes in the ideological gap. 

Politics is not so much a focus as a constituent of the blood that pulses quietly beneath the skin. It contributes to the tension between the characters, and the stifling atmosphere of the film. Like Julio de la Rosa's minor-key score, it grinds at the nerve endings so that the attentive viewer is rarely at ease.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Marshland, Alberto Rodríguez, Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Arévalo

 

 

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