aka LA ISLA MINIMA
(Alberto Rodriguez, 2014)
Set in the political twilight between the death of Franco and the coming of democracy in early '80s Spain, Marshland is an extremely intense, emotionally charged thriller. When two girls disappear in rural Andalucia, a pair of detectives are dispatched to find them. When they do find them, the girls have been raped, tortured and killed. During their investigation, the detectives find themselves stonewalled by small-town Spain, where distrust and secretiveness are seemingly everywhere. Their own differences reflect the divides in Spanish society during that era; the younger Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) believes in democracy, talks angrily of Fascists, and was angling for a career in Madrid before a letter to a newspaper landed him in trouble with the government. The older Raul (Javier Gutiérrez) has a shadowed past working for the regime, medical problems (he urinates blood and pops pills) and a cynical attitude to the job of getting results. Together they stumble through an investigation that gets knottier and more complex by the day. Again, Rodriguez suggests that this reflects Spain itself; people protecting the powerful, a general sense of fear and suspicion, secrets and lies beneath the sun.
It is beautifully made. Rodriguez favours a series of lovely birds eye view shots of his marshes and the mighty river around which his action takes place, and they eerily contextualise the action. These human stories, however important they seem, are pitiful and minute compared to the nature surrounding them. Those shots do much of the work creating atmosphere; this little claustrophobic town is powerfully evoked, all smoky bars and sweaty car lots, as is life on the river and marshes, the abandoned hunting lodges and houses set around the bleak countryside which the detectives find themselves searching. The two leads are well-cast; they have great faces - Arévalo handsome in a cruel way, Gutiérrez kind and friendly-looking, which helps complicate their characters and relationship.
The whole thing is terrifically textured and visceral so that when the action starts in the last act, it has real impact - a couple of brilliantly intimate car chases and a shootout are utterly engrossing, and the film has a satisfyingly cynical ending. It is a superior piece of genre entertainment aimed squarely at grown-ups.