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Marshland (La isla mínima) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
01 09 2015

ImageDirected by Alberto Rodriguez

No colour, no thrilling landscapes or shiny urban setting, no vibrancy, no articulated passion. No sun. This isn't the Spain you might have come to expect from film. The ‘marshland', the salt marshes of the Guadalquivir in Andalucia, are flat, colourless, mysterious, inhabited by a reserved, male-dominated people. It's 1980, towards the dog-end of Franco's poisonous rule, and his long shadow squats like some swamp thing over the land and people. We're used now to Scandi-noir where sunless and bleak landscapes are ready metaphors for their twisted and heartless crimes. Here the uncovering of evil things is all one with the brackish waters and the mud, the mists, the roads that lead to nowhere, the sunless sky.

Into this setting come two cops from the big city to investigate the disappearance of twin teenage girls. There's a touch of good cop/bad cop. Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) is old school, cynical, not averse to violence to get what he wants. Pedro (Raul Arévalo), the younger man, is the face of the new Spain that we can see emerging. (A spirited strike is going on locally against a tyrannical landowner.) He's thoughtful and keen to do things properly, and much preoccupied with his wife and the child about to be born back home. A man for the future, also eager for promotion.

It soon becomes a murder inquiry, as more deaths as uncovered from the recent past, and it's revealed that the promise of escape to the more conventional sunny Spain of resorts and a freer society has been a powerful lure to trap the innocent. But although it's a decent enough mystery, we're soon more intrigued by the community itself and the two policemen and their interaction, in particular Juan with his mysterious illness and rumours about his past, which may be as murky as the landscape.

The cinematography is breath-taking, with overhead ‘god's eye' views of the area showing its channels and interlocking creeks resembling neural images of the brain, linking the impenetrable landscape with the unknowable minds of the protagonists. In the end, as the crimes are resolved, you might think at first that light has also begun to shine on the place, as the strike is successful and police and locals celebrate in the bar to the strains of ABBA, a symbol of the freedom that is coming to the country. But we're left with painful evidence that judgements about people aren't that easy, past deeds linger, and nothing is more difficult to read than the human heart.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 25 August 2015

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