I have to confess that I wasn’t planning on seeing Marshland and hadn’t even heard of it. It just so happened that my free pass for Cinema Nova was about to run out, and I have a good friend who speaks Spanish so I thought it would be fun. I’m glad I saw it though, because I feel like it has rekindled my love for both crime and foreign films! And I can finally say that I’ve seen a Spanish film that wasn’t made by the inimitable Pedro Almodovar (I know, for shame).
“The Spanish deep South, 1980. A series of brutal murders of adolescent girls in a remote and forgotten town bring together two disparate characters – both detectives in the homicide division – to investigate the cases. With deep divisions in their ideology, detectives Juan and Pedro must put aside their differences if they are to successfully hunt down a killer who for years has terrorized a community in the shadow of a general disregard for women rooted in a misogynistic past.” – Atípica Films
Winner of the Goya Award, Marshland‘s cinematography was beautiful, particularly its aerial shots, and the wide open land of Andalusia was almost eerily a character in itself, particularly in the climactic scene.I thought the two leads, Javier Gutiérrez (Juan, above left) and Raúl Arévalo (Pedro, above right), were great. There was this fantastic tension that grew throughout the film, which was assisted by short, sharp scenes that didn’t drag and kept us on the edge of our seats. Often, a lot was conveyed by the actors without words, particularly Arévalo whose radical and sensitive character I found fascinating. Taking a look around the internet, there have been a few comparisons to True Detective, which I can understand.
There are some graphic scenes and conversations in the film which you can expect from a crime thriller, particularly one about the murders of young women. It could be argued that these scenes crossed the line into gratuitous violence but for the purposes of time I won’t go into that discussion. I’d be interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on that topic though.
I did enjoy the political elements of the film. Juan is accused of torturing and killing dissidents under General Franco, and Pedro is only in the position of being sent to Andalusia because of his outspoken views that are punished by the force. I thought these elements added context and, for me, I generally find the addition of political context to be exciting and helpful to immerse me in the film’s setting. The recurring mentions of ‘democracy’ were reminders of Spain’s political upheaval, and corruption and distrust permeated the film.
I’m not sure how I felt about the ambiguous ending, though. It seemed that we’d wrapped up Juan’s violent past earlier in the film, so it felt a little disjointed to drag it back at the end as the movie was finishing. However, I think it still provided food for thought and left it open for the viewer to decide how they felt about his actions and their effect on the murder investigation. The Sydney Morning Herald review said that this film lacked depth, but I disagree. While minimalist at times, there was plenty bubbling beneath the surface.
I had that moment of re-adjustment after a film when I stepped back onto chilly Lygon St, realising that I was no longer in Andalusia in 1980. My friend and I had an animated conversation about what shocked and thrilled us, and I think that’s the true sign of an engaging movie. If you’re into crime thrillers, particularly those set in volatile historical periods, give this one a watch!