Saturday, July 18, 2015

Marshland: Old-fashioned crime

Director and co-writer Alberto Rodríguez has come up with a classy crime mystery in Marshland (La isla mínima, 'Minimal Island'). The Spanish language film swept the Goya awards for 2014. It is set in the south west of Spain in 1980 as two detectives track down the brutal murderer of two sisters.

In the process they uncover the dark side of this rural community. They are an odd couple. Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) is trying to get back to work and family in Madrid and Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) has a cloud over him from his days as one of Franco's 'Gestapo'. They are just the tip of a very professional cast.

It is just five years since the Generalissimo's death. Their relationship is strained by Juan's use of vigorous interrogation methods honed during the dictatorship.

The film has a very convincing late 70s atmosphere. Rodríguez seems to have borrowed both from Chinatown and Blowup for his inspiration. Photography is a key element linking both the crimes and the investigation. In addition the cinematography captures the bleakness of the environment and the despair of the local people whose lives are dominated by poverty and unemployment. This is especially true of the young women who are desperate to escape the traditional family and social bonds.

This a an old-fashioned movie with a very modern edge. It's film noir without the wit or the femme fatale.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Wild Tales: Mad as Hell

Writer/director Damián Szifron's so-called black comedy Wild Tales" (Relatos Salvajes) is a real hoot. This collection of six short stories has lashings of the classic elements of melodrama mixed into its contemporary contexts.

"Pasternak" mixes vengeance with everyone's airliner nightmare.
"Las Ratas" ("The Rats") also plays on revenge, as a nasty loan-shark meets his match in a diner.
"El más fuerte" ("The Strongest") takes road rage to new heights and depths.
"Bombita" ("Little Bomb") lives out all drivers's fantasy when trapped by the parking police. Our hero is as mad as hell and isn't going to take this anymore.
"La Propuesta" ("The Proposal") is another auto-related drama based on a hit-and-run.
"Hasta que la muerte nos separe" ("Until Death Do Us Part") has the archetypal wedding party where betrayal is a double-edged sword for the bride and groom.

These modern day morality plays have an excellent Argentine cast, too numerous to single out.

There is plenty of biting social satire complete with the obligatory stereotyping. The rich, big government, police corruption, family relationships, lawyers: all cop a pasting.