Lights! Camera! Euro-Action!
Because of my connections to various organisations I’ve always been able to see a lot of the world cinema that doesn’t open in local overseas arthouses. These are the bread-and-butter indigenous movies that fill Saturday night screens and are likely to be regional, certainly not intended for international exhibition.
A few years back, ‘Welcome To The Sticks’, a comedy about two opposing French regions, became such a massive hit that it spawned versions in other countries. Likewise the Italian comedy ‘Perfect Strangers’ was remade in Spain and France.
Thanks to the global film shutdown, Netflix has been showing crime and fantasy films that don’t usually get overseas showings. To see how different these are from Hollywood B-movies like ‘Fast & Furious’ or ‘Angels & Demons’ (despite their expanded budgets and big stars, the films of Mr Dan Brown will only ever be B-movies), try ‘Earth and Blood’, in which a dying sawmill owner and his deaf daughter discover a car filled with drugs hidden on their property on the eve of its sale. Or ‘Eye for an Eye’, with the formidably-eyebrowed Luis Tosar, in which a kindly care home nurse finds himself in charge of an elderly crime lord faking bad health to stay out of jail.
In neither of these can you tell if there’ll be the remote likelihood of a happy ending because they have a relatable reality to them. When Tosar starts to take revenge on his patient, armed with a formidable array of medical equipment, we fear the worst but are still wrong-footed. And in one of these the ending is so unbelievably bleak that no Hollywood executive would ever have read to the bottom of the page, let alone filmed it.
The Baztan Trilogy by Dolores Redondo (best author name ever) may have been a bestselling series of crime novels in 35 countries but it still makes a cheesy set of films. Located in Basque territory (where it never, ever stops raining), ‘The Invisible Guardian’ and ‘The Legacy of the Bones feature a heavily pregnant cop solving serial killings with bizarre, vaguely supernatural trappings (genuine local Basque legends, severed infants’ arms, cults, hidden shrines). The third film’s arrival has been delayed by the pandemic. Naturally, these killings (an awful lot in a depopulated region) are related to our heroine’s own lurid personal history, yet she’s not taken off the case for a conflict of interest even though her own mother is involved.
The scriptwriters don’t so much present events before you as machine-gun them onto the screen, hurtling from autopsy to crime scene to confrontation-in-an-abandoned-hospital within seconds.
Many of these stories feel like domestic nightmares. In ‘The Occupant’, a hard-pressed businessman is forced to downsize, losing his family’s glamorous apartment to an up-and-coming couple, younger, sexier and wealthier – as he had once been. When he manipulates the new owner, capsizing his career in order to get back his old home, the wheels quickly come off his plan…
The French made a similar film in which an apartment which owes its value to a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower loses its main asset when a building across the street is erected. French, German and Spanish filmmakers recognise that from these seeds of domestic strife are thrillers born, because we all extrapolate worst-case scenarios from minor upsets. Even SF, horror and time travel movies like ‘The Mirage’, ‘[Rec]’ and ‘The Bar’ (above) base their premises on everyday occurrences.
There’s a lesson to take away from this. Crime fiction needs to establish a credible scenario before leaping into the unknown. All of the above films can be found streaming at the moment.