Alberto Rodriguez’s Spanish thriller Marshland “La isla minima” is a blistering crime chronicle of what you would call a shade of the history so stand stricken where never fell the foot or shone the face through the sight of rural Spain, an hour south to the marshlands of Andalusia, producing a fabulous illustration of the puritan detective tale. The film is an unpolluted visual maneuvering on different levels through the remarkable vegetation of grasses, wildflowers and menacing layer through the transition of swamps, shrubs, stems of misdemeanor
It has a touch in common with Bong Joon-ho’s Korean thriller Memories of Murder, with a contrast of dark atmosphere and outstanding slice of deepening the genre. Both these films depict the powerful, slow burning portrait of human idiosyncrasy which resonate an influential propensity of movie making. Marshland won ten Goya’s at Spanish Academy Awards, including Best Film and Best Director.
The origin of the story came from a photography exhibition by Atín Aya in 2000. Aya’s photographs fascinated both Rodríguez and Catalán with the atmosphere and the characters they portrayed a journey around the inhabitants and the scenery in the Marshlands in a series of photographs taken between 1991 and 1996, which, however, seemed to reflect images captured in the 60s and 70s. This idea of people anchored in a past time was what inspired them and finally shaped into a political thriller about the Spanish transition that finally took shape in La isla Mínima viz. Marshland
The movie discovers the qualm draw into the darkness and the characteristic of Spain’s country life set in 1980s with the Franco legacy still large, sore and triggering the under current between the two protagonist homicide cops Pedro, the younger idealist (Raúl Arévalo) and his hard-edged partner Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) from the authoritarian regime investigating the disappearance of teenage girls in a remote part of Andalusia.
The characters are nervous in instants and tense on different levels. Alberto Rodriguez charmingly focuses on the gloomy intensity backed to the modern movement of Nordic Noir, precise of the historical nitty-gritties into its pulpy arras which are stunningly visualized and written by Rafael Cobos. Divulge of the furtive crime and the rural countryside mannerisms merits the meandering plot-line to the new high. The seclusion of the community and the dangerous forms of obsessions that are subtle and below the radar are uncovered beautifully through the narratives.
The opening shows an aerial view of the marshland, the delta that leads from the Guadalquivir River into the Atlantic Ocean. The terrific topography in it vivid best looks like a perverse imagination, moreover a jigsaw leading to the Spanish rice crop, and a place of spectacular natural beauty. The story begins with two detectives from Madrid down from their city jobs to a backwater town. The director invites a probe beneath the face of this unwelcoming terrain. The two not an ideal partners, the temperaments, dispositions and their attitudes of these cops are sternly visible toward everything from personal imbibe, moral and to the politics thrive the root in that period, and are often at odds.
Pedro, a straightforward man, seemingly left winged. His wife back in Madrid pregnant and he’s evidently an expectant father keen to get back home as soon possible. The older Juan on the other hand is fairly an attractive cop of the old school habitually indicts and quick to beat the disobliging witness and liquor up the situation, shakes down hookers and bar owners as more like in his personal sense. The detectives arrive in the wetlands on the very day Basque separatists have assassinated four off-duty civil guards on the outskirts of the town. The late arrival of the two cops at their hotel means that one of their rooms gets occupied and they are left to share the same room together.
The chromatic interpretations of the locale symbolize the exemplary tone and the indistinct atmosphere appears to a narrow-minded community. You can see the TV images spool domestic unrest and social protest, indication of a nation struggling with the testing transition from dictatorship to democracy. The fleeting glance of a banner of the ultra-right wing party among the televised protesters plugs to the deep legacy of a Franco ideology. Describing things as they are or telling about the historical events is also the theme of certain realism of style which Rodriguez believe-in and gives a great spectacle to the story telling and filming pre-constructed illustration cite a crafts compelling from the word go.
Tensions run high. The town’s deep rooted intolerance feeds into the strain of investigation into the disappearance of teenage sisters Estrella and Carmen during the local festival followed three days ago. Their angry father, Rodrigo offers no support, while their mother, Rocio, an abused wife displays the signs of refrain and pensiveness. The story unearths the hints of what could be the truth in every scene. The trivial information bit by bit builds a poser far more complex and following the several visits to the missing girls parents.
The detectives point to Quini, the town’s cocky, handsome guy. The girl’s mother Rocio gives the cops a letter the girls received, containing a semi-burned negative strip with pornographic shots of the sisters. Later, the girls’ bodies are found raped, tortured, sodomized and mutilated in a ditch and soon Juan and Pedro realize that these murders are just the tip of the iceberg in a convoluted crime driven by ineptness and utilize the help of local hunter Jesus to look for more evident proof around the area.
You have couple of characters with a solid look in the story. The local journo-photographer is approached by Pedro during the investigation to develop a strip of photo-film. The local mayor is keen to have the homicides solved, besides busy dealing with labour strikes over the rice harvest in protest with inferior wages and also his ostensible chauvinist connotes towards the deceased girls plague hurdles in the process. The support system and authorities of their prejudice as well as the mounted corruption blemishes the social conscience and uncertain future
Pedro and Juan’s entrapping chase has a consistent grip over the proceedings. The late night car chase down the narrow damp tracks with jaded headlights plunging through thin edges narrowly loses the killer, but further questioning leads to a final, fatal chase through the rain soaked marshes. The colour palette is admiringly soothing and the lashing rainstorms create the perfect environment unfolding the amiable end and so is the non-stereo type context make very distinct.
The film uses two photographers Atin Aya ( still photographs) and Alex Catalan ( motion photos) deliberately combining the style of two very different contrasts. The closed, the long shots and also the aerial, stimulate amusing colors and their geometry gives various dimensions of the story and thoroughly stick in your mind and each of these visuals are flawless and meticulous.
It’s four decades after Franco and it will thus be many years before Spain is free of Franco’s legacy and this is one such movie shall keep you enduring the brilliant effort recapturing the political undertones and backdrop of Spain of 1980. I am sure the subtle bass line of music and the stunning Marshland gives you a point to ponder with……
- Directed by Alberto Rodríguez
- Scripted & written by Rafael Cobos
- Co-written: Alberto Rodríguez
- Star cast: Raúl Arévalo; Javier Gutiérrez; Nerea Barros & Antonio de la Torre
- Music by Julio de la Rosa
- Cinematography: Alex Catalán
- Edited by José M. G. Moyano
- Production Companies: Atípica Films; Sacramento Films & Atresmedia Cine
- Distributed by Warner Bros International
- Release dates: September 26, 2014 (Spain)
- Run time of 105 minutes
- Country: Spain
- Language: Spanish
- Awards: 41 wins & 31 nominations