JDIFF 2013: El Cuerpo (The Body)

Cathy Butler enters the morgue and examines The Body, which screened as part of the 2013 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

El Cuerpo (The Body)

Sat, 16th February
Cineworld 18
20.45
110 mins

Spanish thriller El Cuerpo (The Body) opens quite literally with a bang, as an unfortunate morgue security guard gets hit by a car after fleeing through some woods in terror. At this screening we got to see this grim opening not once but twice, as an error with the subtitle track meant the film had to be restarted. Once the film is resumed, accurate subtitles included, we learn that back at the morgue the body of recently deceased successful business woman Mayka Villaverde is missing, presumed stolen. Detective Jaime Peña, a cop with a troubled past, is given the task of unravelling this strange case. He and his team decamp to the morgue to investigate. It immediately starts pouring rain.

The film plays out over the course of one night, and a large proportion of the action takes place in the morgue, with most of the core characters staying there for much of the film. This grim setting along with the ‘it was a dark and stormy night’ weather outdoors gives the film a nicely macabre air from start to finish.

On informing Mayka’s husband Alex of his wife’s body’s disappearance, Jaime soon begins to suspect this recently widowed man of her murder, and also of the theft of her body. It initially appears that this may be the case, but soon Alex starts finding strange clues and items left for him around the morgue. He begins to suspect that Mayka may be in fact alive, having duped him in revenge for plotting to kill her, and also for the infidelity that drove him to it, and is leading him into a trap that he cannot avoid.

This is a cleverly plotted mystery thriller, and a strong cinematic debut from Oriol Paulo. It makes some nice use of film noir tropes, almost to the point of irony – Mayka playing the femme fatale, Jaime as the cop with a history, the constant rain. The film veers towards stylized drama rather than gritty realism. For this reason it manages to be surprisingly humorous at times, despite its dark subject.

The twist is very nicely done and seems to tie up most of the strands of plot that Paulo weaves throughout the narrative. A more shrewd viewer may say there are plot holes, but I gave the film the benefit of the doubt and assumed I had missed some things along the way. The style is polished and slick, a little too much perhaps. But an intriguing and clever two hours, all things considered.

Cathy Butler

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