Spain in the late Seventies and early Eighties was not the place that today’s holidaymakers would be familiar with. It was a period of transition with the move back to a democratic country after decades under the yolk of the Fascist dictator Franco. The drama in the 2014 film Marshland plays out against this background of change.
Two disgraced policemen are sent to a small Andalusian town on the Guadalquivir Marshes to investigate the disappearance of two sisters. The town is in the middle of its harvest period and the annual fair is in full swing. With resistance from the local police and residents, the detectives soon find that their investigation taking a darker and far more sinister turn than they first thought.
This was one of the eminent Spanish films of 2014. It won ten Goya Awards, the Spanish equivalent of the BAFTA’s, including best film, best director, best actor, best actress and in a host of technical categories. It is easy to understand why. It is a tense and suffocating film that is the very definition of the term thriller.
The main actors initially are seen as the typical odd couple cop duo. This is soon dispelled as you get to know the background of the men. Pedro (Raul Arevalo) is someone with a conscience. He is in disgrace for sending a letter to a newspaper which heavily criticised a superior. He is trying to find a way to get back to work in Madrid to be with his family. It is worrying for him and a constant strain. That strain is threatening to affect his work but he is able to keep it separate.
Juan (Javier Gutierrez) is something else entirely. He is an old hand who is out of favour. Or so it seems. He has a few issues which lead to him drinking heavily and possibly affecting his health. With two such distinct characters they blend together very well in the film as they have that ability to react without talking. It’s all instinct, training and most importantly, trust.
The film is beautifully shot. The colour palate for the film is all rich rustic colours. The muted tones mirror the dramatic storyline and emphasise the emptiness of the surroundings. It makes for an atmospheric movie. There are some stunning overhead shots of the Marshlands region. In a way it reminds you of some of the settings for the TV drama True Detective.
Always in the background of the unfolding drama is the politics of the time. Things are changing but it is taking some time to get to the outlying districts. The main difficulty the detectives have is in trying to gain the trust of the locals. They naturally see officialdom as the enemy having gone through decades of oppression and corruption. It is just in the face of tragedy and death do they start to see that Juan and Pedro are there to help.
Overall, a stylish and enthralling drama. Highly recommended.