Marshland

June 6, 2015
Raul Arevalo in 'Marshland' (2014)
Raul Arevalo in 'Marshland' (2014)

Anyone desperately seeking filmic distraction would be better advised to track down Alberto Rodríguez’s Marshland, a gripping mystery-thriller set in a desolate part of southern Spain at the end of the Franco era. The problem is that this movie will only score a limited release while Aloha screens in every multiplex.

A pair of ill-matched detectives are sent to a small town to investigate the disappearance of two teenage sisters. Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) has been banished from Madrid as an unspoken punishment for writing a letter that was critical of the government. It’s 1980, five years since Franco’s death, but the shackles on free speech have still not been lifted.

His partner, Juan (Javier Gutiérrez), has a shadowy past, revealed in glimpses throughout the movie. Where Pedro styles himself a new breed of policeman, Juan is willing to use simple violence to get answers to his questions, although he is no brute. Small, dapper and quick-witted, he is the kind of complex character that has all-but-disappeared from Australian films.

As the case turns into a murder investigation the detectives discover an underworld of sex, drugs and teen exploitation. Everyone seems to be on the make, and no-one is talking. It’s hardly an original idea, but Rodríguez is masterly in his creation of atmosphere and personality. The alternation between light and darkness has a primal quality in this film, along with the landscape and the elements. A car chase conducted along a muddy track in pouring rain is an electrifying sequence.

Marshland is a study in brooding evil, set in a society given over to harsh, opportunistic ways of survival. The detectives are not merely solving a crime, they are uncovering evidence of a community that has lost its soul, as every personality seems to have been infected by the poison of the Franco years. It is such a convincing portrait we can only wonder if, thirty years later, there aren’t Spanish towns that still bear these scars.

Marshland
Directed by Alberto Rodríguez
Written by Rafaek Cobos & Alberto Rodríguez
Starring Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Arévalo, Jesús Castro, Salva Reina, Ana Tomeno
Spain, rated MA 15+, 105 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 6th June, 2015.