18 Jun 2015

Marshlands - film review

From At The Movies, 7:50 pm on 18 June 2015

Directed by Alberto Rodriguez, winner of 12 Goya awards.

Simon Morris reviews the Spanish Oscar-nominated Marshlands, which delivers to the True Detective audience.

The first shot of the new Spanish drama Marshlands is absolutely extraordinary. For a few moments you can’t tell what it is – an abstract painting maybe? A microscopic picture of stem-cells? No it’s an aerial shot of Andalucia, the Southern quarter of Spain – all intertwining marshes and river estuaries - where the story is set.

We meet two big-city detectives – Juan and Pedro – who’ve been sent from Madrid to investigate the disappearance of two teenage girls. The year is 1980, just five years after the death of Fascist dictator Franco. The older Juan clearly comes from the Franco era, while Pedro is prematurely democratic. His secondment to Andalucia is a punishment for an ill-advised letter to the Press.

The hostile relationship between the two echoes TV series like True Detective and the hit shows from Scandinavia. But the flavour couldn’t be more Spanish.  

The cops suspect the worst with two girls missing, and they’re soon proved right. The clues inevitably point towards a criminal organisation. The question is, how far up does this possible conspiracy lead? Information is in short supply among the suspicious locals, and when it comes, it asks a whole lot more questions.

Each time we shift gears in the story of Marshlands, director Alberto Rodriguez pulls out another of his extraordinary aerial shots – I’m guessing, taken from a balloon – shots of the intertwining land and water, punctuated by fishing-boats and flamingos. Just to remind us that we’re in the Spanish badlands.

Marshlands, which picked up just about every prize at the Spanish Goya Awards, has many things going for it.  

The clues are clearly marked, and we follow them at the same pace as the police. The suspects are believable, and lurking in the background is the shadowy history of Spain under Generalissimo Franco. 

Marshlands is an expert thriller on the surface, but its Spanish roots run far deeper than the usual CSI, serial-killer plots we’re used to on TV. Heartily recommended, and hopefully Hollywood won’t make its own version of it, set in Arkansas and starring Meryl Streep and Kim Kardashian. As the breath-taking aerial shots remind us, this is a story that belongs in Andalucia.

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