Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Marshland

When you think of Spanish cinema, you think of Pedro Almodóvar. And that’s it, for most people. Other than Almodóvar’s works, Spanish cinema has never found a huge audience here in the UK. The last film from that neck of the woods I saw was Wild Tales, which I bloody loved. I remember seeing it was nominated for 9 Goya Awards, which honour Spanish cinema. I thought it had all 9 of them in the bag, as I couldn’t believe any film out of Spain would beat Wild Tales. It won ONE. It lost out on the majority of them to mystery thriller Marshland


Out now on DVD, Spanish-language Marshland (La Isla Minima) tells the story of two ideologically opposed homicide detectives – young, by-the-books Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) and the older Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) - in 1980s Spain. Sent to investigate the disappearance of two teenage girls during a middle-of-nowhere town’s festivities, their investigation soon becomes a lot bigger than just disappearance and before they know it, they’re chasing a serial killer who has been slaying the town’s girls for years. Fans of the genre might be shaking their heads right now, thinking “I’ve seen it all before”. And sure, some elements of Marshland are certainly predictable. Mismatched detectives? Check. Small town? Check. Disappearance case becomes murder case? Check. But Marshland is more. As well as being a murder mystery, the film is full of socio-political undertones and the plot occasionally dabbles in these themes. Being set in 1980, Spain is presented as country completely shaken by instability and corruption. These themes aren’t explicit, but they’re there. It’s these smart undertones that elevate the film into a new level of quality. 


Marshland is easily one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in a long time. From the beautiful aerial opening credits (created by digitalising the photographs of Hector Garrido) to the cinematography throughout, I was frequently taken aback by how incredible Marshland looked. It instantly set the mood and held the tone of the film throughout. The cinematography is, quite rightly, one of the many things for which Marshland won a prestigious Goya Award. Marshland walked away with 10 awards that night. Each one was well and truly deserved. 2 of these awards were for acting, for which there were 3 nominations. Unfortunately, only 1 of the lead actors could win Best Actor, obviously. Javier Gutiérrez took that, while a supporting character picked up Best Supporting Actor. Both of the leads are phenomenal though, and it would’ve been an extremely difficult decision as to which took Best Actor.

The characters of Juan and Pedro are extremely deep. There is subtle tension between the pair’s ideologies throughout; with the younger detective being somewhat anti-establishment, speaking out at his superiors being the reason for his reprimand, whilst his hard-boiled older partner is wiser to the societal change and while perhaps bitter, is accepting of it. Again, this is where the subtle political undertones come in. This is handled extremely well by a solid script and the phenomenal performances throughout. Despite all this amazing acting – especially from the two leads - the best character and presence in the film is infact the location. The vacuous and barren marsh landscape is hauntingly beautiful and memorably eerie, making this film hard to shake once the credits have rolled. The ominous atmosphere created by the location alone is only strengthened by the foreboding score and, obviously, murderous themes of the narrative. The film has been labelled by some as ‘a Spanish True Detective’ and it’s very easy to see where this comparison comes from. The two detectives with differing views on the world investigating murders in a bleak, marshy land in the middle of nowhere. The music, tone and pacing is all very similar. But Marshland is far better in its consistent quality and more satisfying (yet still somewhat ambiguous) ending. It’s definitely better than the second season of True Detective at the very least.


Ultimately, Marshland is far more than just another generic whodunit mystery thriller. It’s incredibly intelligent, visually stunning, superbly acted and phenomenally directed. It’s a perfect film. Honestly, despite the awards success I wasn’t expecting a huge amount from it. On the surface, it doesn’t look special. But it truly is. Its films like this that remind me why I love cinema so much.

Marshland is without a doubt the best film I’ve ever seen come out of Spain, and one of the best in recent years from anywhere in the world. 5/5.

★★★★★

Sam Love


Marshland at CeX


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