Director: Alberto Rodriguez
Stars: Javier Gutierrez, Raul Arevalo, Nerea Barros, Jesus Castro, Maria Varod, Perico Cervantes, Alberto Gonzalez, Manuel Sala, Antonio de le Torre.
The multi-award winning Marshland was one of the highlights of the recent Spanish Film Festival. This is a rather grim and dark police thriller set in a rural area of Andalucia in the south of Spain. It takes place in 1980, which was a time of great transition for Spain as it moved from the brutal dictatorship of the Franco era to a more democratic government. Not everyone enthusiastically embraced the change though.
A pair of detectives are sent to the small village of Villafranco del Guadalquivir to investigate the disappearance of a couple of young girls who were last seen getting into a car with a stranger after a fiesta. The two girls had quite a local reputation for being free and easy going. But when they turn up dead, their bodies horribly mutilated, it seems that a brutal serial killer is at work.
The two cops themselves are a study in contrasts that reflect the changes occurring in Spain. Juan (played by Javier Gutierrez, a veteran better known for his comedic roles) is the veteran cop whose methods reflect the repressive mentality of the former regime, and he prefers to beat information out of suspects, while his tyro partner Pedro (Raul Arevalo, from I’m So Excited, etc) is a more patient, analytical investigator with a more methodical approach. The contrast between the two creates plenty of tension, and they must find a way to put aside their differences and their mistrust and learn to work together to find a vicious killer before he strikes again.
The investigation uncovers plenty of small town corruption, dirty secrets, a small pornography ring, and drug smuggling. The town is still living in the past, and there is a general apathy towards the two detectives. The film reaches a tense climax at a remote and abandoned farmhouse. Cinematographer Alex Catalan captures some beautiful, stark and striking images. Marshland has been scripted by the director Alberto Rodriguez and his regular collaborator Rafael Cobos, who slowly tease out the details. Rodriguez’s previous film was the crime drama Unit 7, which explored some similar themes.
The unique setting and the unsettling topography of the nearby swamplands adds to the brooding atmosphere of the film, which is reminiscent in tone to the films of David Fincher, and it lifts the material above the formulaic genre conventions.
This thriller is tough going, with a strong misogynistic streak and a few moments of graphic violence. However, this atmospheric and tense but satisfying crime drama also seems like perfect fodder for a Hollywood remake.