I saw a teaser of this movie a month ago on Spanish television. The style and tone reminded me quickly of HBO’s True Detective. I quickly got excited to see it and became hopeful to see a great Spanish movie again, because to be honest it’s been a long time since there really was one.
Set in the year 1980. Two ideologically opposed homicide detectives from Madrid are reprimanded and sent to a forgotten town on the Guadalquivir Marshes to investigate the disappearance and murder of two teenage girls during the town’s festivities. Together they will have to overcome their differences and face the heartless killer that has been murdering teenagers in the town for years.
1980 was a decisive moment for the history of Spain, then a chauvinist country, in crisis (like now) and turbulent: it was not only the year prior to the attempted coup d’état by Colonel Tejero, but, with a green democracy, two worlds were colliding – one new, the other old – they could barely survive side by side… and would continue to do so for a long time. In this context Alberto Rodríguez has set the political plot of La Isla Minima.
Indeed La Isla Minima recalls that southern North American cinema that we’ve enjoyed on so many occasions. Its unwholesome atmosphere comes close to David Fincher and HBO’s True Detective (even though it was filmed before the show aired). While the story occasionally feels like an old friend, Marshland’s terrain is most emphatically new. The swampy lowlands at the mouth of Spain’s Guadalquivir River, as lensed by cinematographer Alex Catalan, help liberate the film from its genre moorings to produce a striking new form of Southern Gothic.
Alberto Rodríguez displays great skill when it comes to filming deft action scenes on difficult terrain. On the other hand, his characters lack a bit of empathy: although his tale is tremendous, he doesn’t succeed in moving us as he should. All of that emphasises the twisted atmosphere which permeates the movie, in which corruption, power and suspicion dominate above the alleged democracy that was supposed to bring reform to a country which, in such isolated places, remained anchored in the previous forty years of darkness.
La Isla Minima tells a solid narrative out of a great set-up. What lends Marshland heft is its political nuance and outstanding art direction, both of which seem unlikely to go unnoticed in the international marketplace.
Alex Catalan, for one, must surely be recognised for a technical ambition which dwarves many more lavishly-funded films in the international marketplace. I do agree that it should have been the representation for Spain at the Oscars, since ‘El Niño’ and ‘Vivir Es Facil Con Los Ojos Cerrados’ were way weaker than ‘La Isla Minima’ .
La Isla Minima gets an 7.7/10.