The Baztan Follies

Christopher Fowler

Incredibly, the reviews for the trilogy are terrific.

If Lockdown brought one good thing for me it was the return of really awful B movies. After scrolling through Netflix's premium listings, all seemingly aimed at children, I dredged the dross at the bottom of their EPG. As a lover of Spanish cinema how could I resist 'The Baztan Trilogy', three classy looking, expensive movies - 'The Invisible Guardian', 'Legacy of the Bones' and 'Offering to the Storm' from bestselling novels by the fabulously monickered Dolores Redondo? I know that many Latino-language books suffer from bad translation - 'Shadow of the Wind' has been rendered almost unreadable in English - and perhaps Ms Redondo is not the Spanish-speaking world's Dan Brown in the originals, but there's something seriously wrong with the film versions. So much happens and so little matters. They're like twenty telenovelas scrunched together into one long incomprehensible multi-movie. Detective Amaia Salazar single-handedly sets feminism back 20 years as a Spanish police officer who spends the entire film series crying, sobbing, mewling, whining, hugging or being generally needy. She has returned home to a small Galician town to solve some ridiculous 'demonic' murders (young girls found with pastries on their genitals). Is it the disgruntled town baker, who happens to be one of her sisters? Like 90% of the events in the films, there's no ultimate explanation for them. Everything is said portentously and with a very straight face. Galicia clearly suffers from the phenomenon of Hosepipe Weather, in which rain batters the windows of every single scene, except briefly when it snows before raining again. At one point the town floods tsunami-like, purely for the purpose of washing away Amaia's mother - don't worry though, she comes back, only to slit her own throat for no reason.

'What future does a judge have when his father has led a satanic sect?'

That's asked by the judge himself, one of Amaia's many admirers, who exist to tell us that she's clever and magnetically fascinating when we can see that she's a black hole of warmth and wit, and a general drag to be around, besides being a really lousy detective. Maia tends to stare out of windows in gloomy introspection like a dumped first wife, before consulting the tarot with her kindly gran or arriving too late when someone's baby has just been eviscerated by a satanist. It's all a big conspiracy, of course, simultaneously too complex and too simple. Someone is killing babies and virgins so that an unseen form of Beelzebub will somehow make them rich, so the plot has nominal satanic trappings but none of the fun (for satanism AND fun, see 'Day of the Beast'). How will demons make them rich, I hear you ask? I don't know because, like everything else in the films, we never come back to that point. Amaia visits her best friend at his home, now a crime scene as he has just been murdered, and without even looking manages to find a bullet and hair samples the forensic team missed. She has her blind spots, though. She failed to notice he was gay, despite a dozen framed photos showing him and his husband scattered around the flat. The bullet and hair are never mentioned again. After a while I realised that there was no motivation to understand, or indeed anything to connect one scene with the next, so I started studying the furnishings. All three films have wall-to-wall non-stop dialogue consisting entirely of extraneous plot points, so I tuned out and looked at window treatments.

'She's gone to the cemetery - and she's armed with explosives!'

Amaia is great at Lone Detecting. Look out, the latest crazed suspect is about to blow up her baby's grave (don't even ask) but Amaia doesn't need back-up. Hysterically crying, she'll go there alone, driving crazily. Anyway, there are clearly only four policemen available to choose from in such a small town. It makes logical sense, then, for a judge to snog Amaia - a married mother - in the window of the town's glass-fronted main bar where everyone can see. The films also suffer from 'The barbarians are at the gates of Rome' Syndrome. Officers forever rush into a static scene to announce that A Major Event has just happened off-screen. Events pile up so thick and fast that you feel as if someone is riffling through a thousand pages shouting everything that's happening.
The ending, when it finally comes, is meaningless and fails to answer any questions that have been thrown up by the preceding hurtle of events.
Incomprehensibly, incredibly, the reviews for the Baztan Trilogy are terrific. All three films are currently clogging up Netflix but I could find no bad reviews online, leading me to suspect that Netflix clean up after a murder, although in this case all that died was the script. Maybe I expect too much from a murder mystery, like coherence or the vaguest level of believability. Dolores is a big star now. I need to dumb down. A long way down.


Liz Thompson (not verified) Mon, 03/08/2020 - 11:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well I shan't watch the films, but your review was a cracker! I laughed all the way through, unlike your experience of the films.

Gill (not verified) Mon, 03/08/2020 - 13:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

To be fair to Galicia, it rained 90% of the day when I visited Vigo

Frances (not verified) Mon, 03/08/2020 - 15:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I will give one a go in the original Spanish to see if it is a translation problem. Laughing at subtitles is a favourite game of mine. An old favourite was Pop Goes The Weasel translated as Daddy has the mumps.

Paul C (not verified) Mon, 03/08/2020 - 15:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This may be an unreliable urban legend but I once read that the subtitle 'Come alive with Pepsi' was translated in China as 'Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead'...........

Helen Martin (not verified) Mon, 03/08/2020 - 17:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Frances makes a good point. The world is full of bad translators (v. my unpublished translation of Candide) and that is my first suspicion when faced with incomprehensible material.

Frances (not verified) Tue, 04/08/2020 - 01:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

In the interests of science I watched one of the three films. The subtitles in English are fine. Much better than we get in Spanish for English language films. You can also watch each one dubbed into English. The Spaniards are very good at that as previously all foreign films had to be dubbed into Spanish. No idea if that is still the case. So I doubt there were any translation problems. I cannot help with the plot as I was as confused as you were.

John Howard (not verified) Tue, 04/08/2020 - 05:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sounds like a VERY bad attempt at Scandi-Noir.

Christopher Fowler Tue, 04/08/2020 - 14:29

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Galicinoir! Although it's raining in all Galician films...