(original Title: La Isla Mínima)
Southern Spain, 1980. The violent murders of two adolescent girls in a distant and forgotten town brings two detectives with different characters together: the violent and insecure Juan (often seen in comic roles, Javier Gutiérrez sees in La Isla Minima the peak of his career) confronts the ideologist but hesitant Pedro (the permanently sad Raúl Arévalo). They both must put their differences in ideologies aside if they want to catch the killer who has for years terrorized the community with his legendary contempt for women.
The script follows a proven-to-work, classic recipe and it’s very reminiscent of True Detective, borrowing just enough elements to remind us of the show, but still carrying its own character and voice.
Read at Unsung Films: Nueve Reinas.
Not long after the establishment of democracy in Spain and the end of Franco’s junta, and the citizens are divided into two sides: the liberals and the supporters of the old regime. All of them feel confused by the situation and no one seems to have a clear idea of what the future could or should bring. A common feature of the two tendencies is doubt and anxiety for what’s coming next, as they’re stuck in a wet, dusty, continually but slowly changing place. The swampy land conceptually identifies with the transition from dictatorship to democracy and the slow-moving change in the community.
In this numb and uncertain environment, the two vastly different detectives keep finding themselves having to approach terrified witnesses to distract information on the mysterious disappearances, while the guilty seem to think that their crimes will be concealed and forgotten once more – much like they did during Franco’s rule.
Marshland (La Isla Minima) shouldn’t be seen as a mere crime thriller. The protagonists’ performances turn it into something much more significant. Writer-director Alberto Rodríguez outlines the present and past of early post-dictatorship Spain in the faces of the two main protagonists whose characters are so convincingly written and compellingly contrasted: Raúl Arévalo, a fresh of breath air, and Javier Gutiérrez, the old-fashioned cop with the dark past that is revealed to us slowly as the story progresses.
The direction, simple but powerful, proceeds methodically without sudden flashes of insightfulness. The story might come across stereotyped but it’s refreshing to see that Rodriguez doesn’t rely on disturbed psyches, as much as he does in realistic social events and the mere complexity of everyday life. Atmospheric cinematography and a deeply melancholic and mysterious aesthetic tone assist the soundtrack in evoking an impossibly stifling feeling which suffocates Marshland’s audience.
The questions left unanswered at times don’t make La Isla Minima any less worthy of our time. As the crime is solved and the end approaches, new problems seem to emerge. The tired look in the two heroes’ faces remind the viewer that things are very similar in the film and in reality, and in Spain or anywhere else in the world. Realistic, daunting, significant, engaging and definitely worth-watching, Marshland (La Isla Minima) has its fair share to offer.
Watch the tráiler for Marshland (La Isla Mínima) here: