Despite their listed years, both Marshland and The Treasure came out in the US in 2016, so for me, they’re another two of the best of this year.
Marshland is a good old-fashioned detective thriller. I’m always in the mood to watch this genre, but there aren’t a ton that I really like. Prisoners, Memories of Murder, Zodiac, Se7en, In The Electric Mist, True Detective…they all come to mind as successful ones that aren’t trying to be noir, but are really just firmly entrenched in the detective thriller genre. More action-based, perhaps, than mood-based.
This one’s set just post-Franco in Spain as two detectives, the younger Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) and his older partner Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) investigate a series of brutal slayings of young woman. The movie is atmospheric and interestingly shot. While most frames are suffused with golden tones, sometimes cinematographer Alex Catalán figures out ways to motivate red tones. I love this shot, Pedro’s POV early in the film as the men drive at night:
I’m really interested in this kind of lighting, which allows realistic light sources to just add a hint of otherworldliness.
The opening credits are a series of beautiful overhead shots, and these are also featured here and there throughout the film:
The film ends with just such a shot, but instead of keeping it directly overhead and then cutting the next scene, this time the frame starts flat on, and then gradually tilts and cranes away:
It’s a nice coda to the film. As the camera pulls away we finally see these images as three-dimensional and therefore real. It’s like the film is no longer just looking at the landscape as a map, as something obscure, but instead, at the end, Spain is real and present. The camera move seems to move us away from the past (the image like a textbook or photograph) and to the present.
There are plenty of birds in the film. Like these-
-and also like the ones Juan sees throughout. Is there overt symbolism here? Maybe I missed some of it. But nonetheless, I like it when something is repeated enough so that it has to have meaning. Fill in your own blank. For me, the birds are fleeting (literally) and often oddly placed – the same way that these two detectives’ relationship is.
Corneliu Porumbiou’s new film is something of an enigma. On the surface, it’s kind of boring and obvious. But it stuck with me and I think that’s the point. As with the director’s 12:08 East of Bucharest – a truly great film – the camera hardly moves in this one. Until the end, that is. And then, like Marshland, we’re meant to notice such an anomaly.
Some of the long takes here are cringeworthy. Costi (Toma Cuzin) agrees to help a neighbor search for a buried treasure. At the end, Costi’s shopping spree at the jewelry store at the end is so drawn out you’re just waiting for something to go wrong – he’ll get robbed, he doesn’t actually have the money, etc. Others are funny. For example, the constant beeping of the metal detector basically no matter where it is (it’s uselessness becomes a punchline).
But really, what The Treasure seems at first to be about – police corruption and general distrust – is in fact just convention. Porumbiou sets us up for so many story conventions that we’re used to. Along the way we are faced with scenes that beg the questions: When will a double-cross happen? Will he blow his money? Get sued by the unseen brother? Call the wrong number of the wrong metal detector guy – someone he’s not supposed to call? Get caught up in having an affair he isn’t having? Get blackmailed by the metal detector guy ? Meet corrupt cops?
None of this happens. It’s all “supposed to” and the director constantly undermines our expectations. This leads to a really, really odd tension. When we’re so constantly assuming and waiting for things to happen…and then they never do, it’s a different sort of “edge of your seat,” and it really works.
As a side note, there’s a really great cut after the cops agree to “make a phone call to Bucharest.” This line is just so ominous, and again, we expect corruption to seep into the plot right after this. But instead, we hard cut to the two leads in the car, safely with the treasure. Not what we thought was going to happen.