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Marshland Review

"Andalusian noir with a political edge"

Marshland (aka La isla mínima) is one of those films which completely immerses itself in a fascinating landscape, but does not forget to tell an interesting story. Alberto Rodríguez’ work swept the board at last years Goya Awards (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars), taking home ten awards including the major categories of Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor (Javier Gutiérrez). The noirish thriller has been likened to True Detective and Zodiac, and should satisfy anyone looking for an atmospheric crime story with a political edge.

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The film opens with a series of shots introducing the audience to its Andalusian setting. We first discover the Guadalquivir marshes from the sky. The vertical position transforms the landscape into a strange sight of spectacular beauty. The water is struggling across the land on any possible path, thus creating an organic labyrinth of the elements. This is not the Spain of sunny beaches and cocktails; it’s a moody bayou that is reminiscent of Night of the Hunter and Beasts of the Southern Wild. It is the perfect setting for a dark, atmospheric thriller.

Rodriguez falls back on the bird’s-eye view on several occasions throughout the film in order to create a distance to the narrative and make the audience think about the bigger forces at work. The story follows a pair of detectives sent from Madrid in 1980 to investigate the disappearance two sisters from a local town. In the beginning, they seem like polar opposites. Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) is youngish and idealistic who represents a new democratic regime. Juan (Gutiérrez) on the other hand is a remnant of Franco’s dictatorship: he rose through the ranks of the general’s gestapo and does not hesitate to deploy unusual methods.

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The plot twists and leads to many odd, revealing encounters with the local community. But it’s really a film about a specific moment in Spanish history and the creation of an attitude that remains relevant to the present day. Transitions are often more interesting than revolution and the radical passage from an authoritarian regime to a democracy is hardly going to run smoothly. Wrong spills into right (and vice-versa) like the water overruns the land of the Guadalquivir delta. In a period of transition, the film argues, pragmatism and results have to overrule ideology to achieve results.

However, you do not need to be an expert on Spanish history or cultivate a passion for political theory in order to enjoy Marshland. Like Chinatown to name an example, it is primarily a crime story with an enthralling mystery at its core. Marshland is an entertaining, smart, neo-noir triumph. Why it was not submitted for Oscar consideration by Spain is beyond me.

Rating
7.8
Pros
  • High-level performances
  • Atmospheric landscape
  • Genre credentials
  • Political and historical awareness
Cons
  • Few surprises

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