by Jaime Grijalba.
Much has been said for the past few months about this particular Spanish film, as it won practically every award at the Goyas, the Spanish Oscars, something that hadn’t happened in quite a while, so this film wasn’t only a critical (and even festival) hit, but it also managed to find an audience, captivating many viewers with its timely narrative in the context of modern Spain. This particular film has been compared to the success that was the first season of the TV series ‘True Detective’ that had premiered earlier last year, so the comparisons aren’t really something smart to do and only work towards the idea that the pulpy fiction from detectives that work in pairs to solve apparently unsolvable cases is back and we must be grateful, as it was truly a lost art form to come up with these stories and not them becoming some sort of buddy comedy that nobody would ever care about in the next five minutes it ended, or into some sort of dreadful combination of pastiches that would never work into something coherent. And while both this film and ‘True Detective’ work as part-pastiche, they work in their own way because they manage to pull out original elements to the world of the detectives fiction that had been filmed til that point, while the HBO series pulled Cthuluh mythos (not entirely original, but still a first for the filmed world in relation to detectives in the mainstream), here this Spanish film puts the political perspective of the time in which the story takes place: the start of the 1980’s.
The precise element of politics present in this mystery thriller is the recent death of Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator that ruled over Spain for over 40 years until his death and funeral, that was when people could pick up their balls and finally have a democracy like they wanted for such a long time. But the movie takes place in a still divided and highly polarized society, one where the liberal thinking is present and still can’t fully grasp the idea that liberty is a thing that exists, while on the other hand, the conservatives that held power still think they have it and thus abuse it for as much time as they want to, until someone kindly reminds them that things have changed, to much of their grief. The film represents that divide in an interesting but still somewhat lazy form, the two police detectives that come to solve the case of two missing girls are split in their visions about the world and about the ex-dictator Franco, and while their confrontation is minimal, you can see that they don’t get along too nicely, and they maintain their relation strictly to the professional, as the detective professionals they demonstrate they are throughout the movie. The case is far from the main cities of Spain, in a marshland-filled place (that gave the english title to the film), where the people still are being pushed around by those who think that are entitled to the power because they are rich and important, a reduction and a continuation of the evil powers that were distilled on these figures just because of their position and not because of their abilities, an interesting yet still kinda obvious when it comes down to the complexities that the film could’ve gone for.
The differences between the two police detectives can only be proven when they are confronted with stressful situations and through the small peeks that we have towards their personal lives. The liberal cop has a wife and family, but they are struggling to find peace among the constant travels and work that he has to do, as well as he seems to be highly apologetic towards people that have been proven to be criminals. The conservative cop is much more violent, and we have just slight and almost minimal glances to what seems to be an obscure past (that supposedly comes with a twist towards the end, but whenever it comes it doesn’t truly matter and the only thing that it comes to prove or say is that it “justifies” his violent behavior), but he mostly just tries to get around the laws and what is normal with the new-come liberty, just to achieve what he wants. Obviously both detectives evolve throughout the film and their well-constructed traits are switched around as the film progresses (only to be turned back again) in the way that only a 101 Script Writing lesson could do. Again, a bit obvious when you could’ve had your characters stick to their guns and principles and still have a compelling narrative, but well, it justifies those switches due to the grim and hurtful context of the crimes: the raping and killing of two young girls, and the disappearance of many others in the past few years.
The movie progresses through the plot like any other procedural detective film, with the constant clues and moments of discovery, as well as the moments when we think that maybe everyone is onto this and all is a conspiracy, which is always fun, but there’s nothing truly astounding that sets this film apart from a bunch of modern procedural television programs, except maybe in the beautiful scenery and the incredible cinematography that uses very well the colors and doesn’t make you forget that you’re actually watching a period piece. I do think the film gets to drag towards the middle of the film, as it seems to go nowhere, just like the investigation, and while that might’ve been fun and interesting (and even complex for such a film), it never amounts to anything other than constant switch and baits that are never truly interesting for any of the characters involved, as it neither develops any characteristic. In a way the film suffers from being extremely obvious and being the most simple-minded detective story that it could be, and sometimes that’s fine, but for something to receive the kind of hype and awards that it has, it never even amounts to having an emotional moment like other fare from recent years (‘El secreto de sus ojos’ (2009) comes to mind for some reason, even though I haven’t seen it).