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GFF15 Review: Marshland


Brooding Spanish crime-drama Marshland was sadly the subject of some technical difficulties at its Glasgow Film Festival screenings - but those lucky enough to catch the screening were rewarded by an atmospheric watch filled with a grimy panache.

Alberto Rodriguez's film takes us to 1980 in post-Franco Spain where Detectives Pedro (Raul Arevalo) and Juan (Javier Gutierrez) are investigating the case of two missing teenage girls. As they dig deeper into the disappearances they are met with a strong hostility from the locals and uncover a wider, more sinister plot.

Rodriguez finds much to discuss in the setting of post-Franco Spain (that's General Francisco, not James, by the way) presenting us with a country still crippled by the marks of its prior authoritarian grip. Boundaries are blurred between the modern policing structure - represented by the younger detective Pedro, whilst Juan is very much of the bloodthirsty old guard. Placing these two archetypes at the centre of a swampy Spanish Gothic mystery makes for an engaging piece - particularly through the subtle character transitions as Pedro becomes increasingly brutal in his investigative tactics when the case becomes more convoluted - and he copes with the knowledge of his partner's past.

It's clear that Marshland is meticulously plotted, Rodriguez may send clues in all directions toying with his Detectives, entangling suspects and cases but he has a consistently tight grip over the proceedings. There is a slow and ponderous side to Rodriguez's pacing, however, making it a struggle to really loose ourselves in the proceedings.

Fortunately atmospheric direction presents plenty to be aesthetically admired. This is a film thick with a clammy unease and brooding unpleasantness. The scorched Spanish countryside evokes a haunting rural emptiness, whilst impressive aerial shots capture a labyrinthine mystery in its winding fields and sparse architecture. The titular marshlands are home to one of the film's strongest set pieces - the film concludes with a dense and murky shoot-out throughout the swamps. An impressively staged car chase adds some further excitement to the proceedings at Marshland's half-way point.

Whilst there is much to be admired in Marshland's thematic reach and through its atmospheric visual style, it is a film that viewers will likely struggle to lose themselves in (well until the soundtrack sticks on Baccara's Yes Sir I Can Boogie). 

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