Marshland (2014)

Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Arévalo, María Varod, Perico Cervantes,
La isla mínima is a movie starring Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Arévalo, and María Varod. Two cops lost in the deep south of Spain. One serial killer to catch. A lot of secrets and lies of discover.
  • 7.3 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Rafael Cobos, Writer:
  • Alberto Rodríguez, Director:
  • Mercedes Cantero, José Antonio Félez, Mercedes Gamero, Mikel Lejarza, Producer:

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8 / 10

Fantastic Spanish cinema!

Marshland is what you would call a slow burn, as there isn't a ton of action, nor is it fast paced. However, it is an entertaining and intriguing police procedural that takes place in a rural town in the south of Spain during 1980. The effects of the Franco dictatorship still muddy the waters; we see his name spray-painted on walls, while his influence still reverberates with many people in the town. The political climate of the region is what separates this film from any number of murder mystery/police procedure films. We see and hear about many workers' strikes and how they are effecting the small town. Politics hang over the entire case from beginning to end, constantly providing obstacles, giving the film its own identity.

Solving a murder case in a Spaniard rural town in 1980 is one mighty challenge. Those wanted by the police are hard to find within the marshlands of the area, presenting another barrier for normal police work. I'm guessing that is where the name came from. This is the type of challenge that detectives Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) and Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) are facing. While investigating the death and mutilation of two girls found in a swamp, they find out that they are dealing with a serial killer. Two other girls lost their lives in similar ways, on almost the same dates, in both 1978 and 1979. Complicating matters is the fact that the two detectives beliefs and ideals seem to be polar opposites. They do indeed butt heads on occasion, but for the most part, both stay loyal to their partner. However, their differences make each encounter with suspects or witnesses interesting, as we see how each man handles certain incidents.

In addition to this police investigation we have an interesting character study, as we get to know both Pedro and Juan. They are brought together as partners because, while working in Madrid, Pedro wrote an angry letter to a newspaper about the government. He is later told 'this country isn't used to Democracy yet' and that he can't mouth off about the government. Pedro of course sees it in another way. His punishment, for writing a letter, was a transfer to a rural town that everyone wants to leave, according to the locals, and we never quite know what his motives are. He wants to solve the case, of course, but is he emotionally interested? Or does he just want a ticket back to Madrid and the comforts, including his family, which will be waiting for him? He seems annoyed that he has been shuttled off to a rural town, but as the case moves forward his passion rises and soon he will seemingly do anything to catch the killer.

Juan is the complete opposite of Pedro. While Pedro maintains his composure for most of the film, Juan loses his cool several times with suspects, threatening and harming them to get information, as if he were policing for the old world: Spain before it became a democracy. This casts a shadow over his character, as we doubt whether his motives are pure. He is also the more persuasive of the two, whether with suspects or with his own partner, he seems to enjoy manipulating people for his own pleasure. It also becomes obvious that he is not a happy man, he is in pain, and we hear nothing about his family. He displays a nonchalant attitude towards the case initially, but as it progresses his actions speak loudly.

Both characters have great arcs that are three-dimensional and complex.

The setting is well recognised, as the cars, haircuts and mustaches certainly point to the late 70's/early 80's. Also worth mentioning is the sublime photography. Not only is the entire movie immaculately captured, especially one scene where the camera tracks Pedro racing after a potential suspect, but what will stick in your mind is the amazing aerial shots. These images help to put the murder case in perspective to the problems the entire country is suffering from. This top-down aerial photography is most prevalent – and incredible – during the starting credits of the film. As a subtle bass line plays under soft acoustic guitars, we see the marshes of Andaluci. They look stunning, and the marshes serve as the perfect setting for majority of the movie to take place.

If you enjoy murder mysteries, Marshland is highly recommended as the Spanish flavour and its political undertones make this film stand out from others in the genre. Even if the genre isn't your cup of tea, Marshland is still worth a watch thanks to its rich characters and the political backdrop of Spain in 1980.

8 / 10

Superbly directed and beautifully shot

What a satisfying movie this was. I love hardcore crimers and this is a great example of its genre. It shows just how corrupted the authorities really were in the 1980's rural Spain without losing touch with its relatively complex plot.

The setup is familiar; two city detectives investigate a series of killings in provincial Spain. I wouldn't know where exactly this area is, but I'm guessing it's the marshlands in Andalucia (my bad if I missed any other detail, I was excited to see the movie so I might have overlooked something). Anyway, it all gets very much complicated as the investigation moves forward and more people are implicated in the case. I'm not going to spoil anything, but be warned that this is not just your usual straightforward murder mystery, as it is also a detailed look into a country shaken by political instability and corruption within the authorities. That said, there are some obvious similarities with other crime-thrillers like Memories of Murder or Red Riding (which I both heartily recommend), or TV shows like True Detective (although I'm not sure about this since I haven't started following TD yet).

The acting is more than solid, especially good are the two main leads. Pedro's character was more likable than Juan's, partially because he despises Franco's regime and its legacy, while Juan didn't seem to care much about that. His share of problems stems from some ugly acts in the past and that is reflected in his often violent work methods. Yet, there is no denying both actors did a splendid job and had no problem dealing with their roles' demands. An interesting bit are a couple of symbol-heavy scenes that include Juan and a bird seemingly staring at each other; one might ramble that the bird represents a new era for the country, a fresh beginning if you like (as it can fly away anytime it wants), while Juan is a man tormented by a violent past he can't escape.

But what I really delighted in was the exceptional cinematography. The movie looks fantastic and every detail is captured in beautifully placed shots. The marshlands are bathed in vivid colors, especially during the sunset. Camera-work is top-notch; I guess mr. Catalan really knows what he is doing. Thankfully, he was also rewarded for his work.

In short, this is a dark, expertly paced thriller that remains ambiguous even after the satisfying conclusion. Definitely recommended if you're into movies like this.

8 / 10

Definition of a thriller with the right amount of everything

Well, this movie was not on my to-see list, but once I watched it, it became one of my favorites of the past year! The setting is ideal and the story is inspired. The acting from both lead actors was phenomenal and it's safe to say, that although the pace of the movie was kind of slow and sluggish, it manages to keep you at the edge of your seat for the whole duration.

I have to say that in the end I was kind of confused with all the Spanish names and who is who, so make sure that when you hit play, you're in a good mood and not sleepy. Cause if you are, it will be a bit difficult to keep up with who is who, etc.

The movie takes place around the 1980s and the scenery and the clothing etc, are really well thought of and executed. The way the movie evolves is really as it was expected for the most part, although there are plot twists that make sure that you don't feel like you own the whole thing.

I would really recommend it and I will stop here to make sure that I don't give away something that could ruin it for you!

8 / 10

far from home

The time is the early eighties. Two detectives, a good-cop (Pedro) bad-cop (Juan) pairing, are sent to a remote region in Spain to investigate the disappearance of teenage sisters. They uncover a series of brutal murders that the tight-knit community may be complicit in. Set in a Spain slowly emerging from Franco's shadow, Marshland has a wonderfully political noir-ish tone. Opening with birds-eye shots of an other-worldy landscape, that the camera often returns to, the futility and inhumanity of the toils that take place on the ground is constantly invoked by the judicious shot choice. Pedro and Juan have personal concerns beyond the investigation. Pedro's wife is pregnant and not always trusting of him in their separation. Juan has failing health and may not be long for this world. They bring their past as well as their present: Juan was in Franco's Gestapo and may have carried out atrocities, Pedro is being punished for open criticism of the military. They deal with these issues as best they can while navigating local resistance to their investigation and their own wary sense of each other. The characters, setting, tone and pace are all compelling, and the overhead shots add wonder and mystery. There are hints of Mississippi Burning here, and also True Detective and Chinatown - a local oligarch seems amoral and ultimately goes unpunished. But the film wears these influences lightly and portrays its own authentic, self-contained world. This is a stylish thriller that comfortably meshes plot, politics and personal concerns.

7 / 10

Intelligent Spanish thriller

The difference between a good crime thriller and an average one, is often the setting. In the case of 'La Isla Minima', the surroundings are as important as the plot. The story takes place in a remote part of Spain, an area of treeless plains, lonely marshlands and wide rivers. The inhabitants of the isolated villages are suspicious of outsiders. In this hostile environment, two policemen try to solve the murder of two teenage sisters. Slowly but determinedly, they gather clues and try to squeeze information out of the uncooperative villagers.

Apart from the scenery, the film is also interesting because of the political situation underpinning the story. The film takes place in 1980, when Spain is in the process of becoming a democracy after being ruled for decades by the dictator Franco. One of the policemen, a former officer in Franco's special forces, still holds on to the old fashioned way of using violence to get things done. The other, a much younger man who embraces the new democracy, has a very different style.

The film is beautifully shot, with some remarkable aerial footage. It's nice to see that Spanish cinema has more to offer than Almodovar.