Thursday, July 13, 2006

TV REVIEW: Epitafios

Although - to some degree - I'm experiencing the summer doldrums in regards to TV viewing (reruns, reruns, reruns...), I've also found a number of new cathode tube obsessions. I wrote yesterday about Entourage (recommended to me by my buddy and dp, Rick Coulter), and today I want to feature another fresh obsession: the HBO Spanish-language series, Epitafios.

Epitafios, or "Epitaphs" is the harrowing, multi-part (13 episode...) tale of a diabolical serial killer who has spent the last four years of his life developing an intricate plan to bring justice to those who botched a delicate hostage situation at a Buenos Aires university years earlier. This lunatic (whose identity is cloaked from the viewer...) writes "epitaphs" on specially designed grave stones for whose whom he plans to "judge" (meaning: kill). These epitaphs are wordy and mysterious, their meaning unfathomable until justice is rendered, like "Here Lies He Who Turned Deception into A Game."

It's up to a balding, retired policeman-turned-cab driver, Renzo (Julio Chavez) and the psychologist he once loved, Dr. Laura Santini (Paula Krum) to catch the killer before he strikes again. This case is personal, however, since it was Renzo and Santini who botched that hostage situation at the college years earlier. One headstone is marked with their two names...so they realize the killer is coming for them soon.

The bread and butter of the highly cinematic Epitafios is the notion that a fine line separates revenge and justice; and it's a line based entirely on personal, subjective perspective. However, viewers may find themselves in love with the stunning visualizations and compositions more than any deep thematic strands. Epitafios - which is filled to the brim with gruesome, inventive (and gory...) death scenes - is perhaps the most cinematic venture I've yet seen on television. In some regards, the series represents a lengthy variation on David Fincher's 1995 noir, Seven, because Epitafios is filmed (by DP Guillermo Zappino) in such sterling fashion. It's a world of rain-soaked streets, off-kilter close-ups, revealing angles and the like. In short, the series is simply beautiful to look at; and the mise-en-scene is the best I've seen on a TV show. Like...ever.

After viewing the first three episodes, I've witnessed corpse pieces strewn over a house that represents the killer's mind, vicious dogs rip out a detective's throat (in a harrowing scene that makes fine use of quick cross-cutting), a penny-pincher's mouth stitched into an open, agape position while coins are hurled down her throat (and the camera actually travels down her esophagus and tilts down into her stomach...), and most horribly of all, a beautiful leather fetish model stretched to death on a rack....before acid is poured on her face with a bottle dropper. Then one hand is amputated. Then...well, you get the idea...

Yep, it's that kind of show. I love it.

The (wide...) suspect pool in Epitafios consists mostly of the relatives of those hostages from years back...parents, ex-lovers, etcetera, who somehow might desire revenge, but this series alternates "current" murders with flashbacks of the University siege (which ends...disastrously...in flames), as well as fine character development. Renzo quit the force over the siege, then fell in love with Santini...who spurned him. Now he's hooked on expired anti-depressants (provided to him by a transvestite client...) and still desperate to be with Santini. Meanwhile, the killer has communicated with the psychologist and demanded that she become...intimate with Renzo, lest her son be killed. It's all fascinating thriller material, and Epitafios utilizes flashbacks more cleverly than say, Lost, for example.

I still have several shows to go before finishing the "story arc" of Epitafios, and yes - the show is in Spanish (with sub-titles), but you'll hardly notice. The visuals on this series are so amazing (except for one or two instances of crappy CGI...) that they transcend the language barrier. This show first aired on HBO last fall, and it pains me that I'm only discovering it now. But better late than never, I guess...

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