Binge-r #154: Green Frontier + The Split
GREEN FRONTIER S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
It’s a familiar Netflix set-up: horrible murders in a remote locale, a detective from outside sent to assist the locals, and no shortage of conspiracies and possible causes revealed. As recently as June that was the case with the moody French crime thriller Black Spot, which I quite liked [full review here]. But in the case of Green Frontier, the setting makes all the difference. Unfolding on the Colombian side of the border with Brazil, deep within the Amazon rainforest, these eight episode have not just a mood of jungle noir, but rhythms and themes that feel connected to a landscape defined by vast distance and inexplicable gaps. In this world both safety and reality can begin to feel tenuous.
Despatched from Bogota, the capable police investigator Helena Poveda (Juana del Rio) is assigned to the bloody murder of four female missionaries, possibly killed by an “uncontacted” native tribe. Her local offsider, detective Reynaldo Bueno (Nelson Camayo), is already caught between an indigenous community that disapproves of his career and colleagues who may be on more than one payroll, and their investigation is swiftly complicated by the discovery of a fifth female body – minus a heart – that refuses to decompose or previously, according to some locals, age. There’s a supernatural tangent from the show’s start, and it genuinely informs the plot, which moves between eras without explanation so that the many colonial atrocities of the past feel readily connected to current crimes.
Unlike the predictable Narcos, which is essentially an American retelling of the rise of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, Green Frontier (originally Frontera Verde in Spanish) is a Colombian production. Creators Jenny Ceballos, Mauricio Leiva-Cock, and Diego Ramirez-Schrempp balance the traditional concerns of the procedural, complete with Helena’s childhood connection to the region, with the viewpoint of contemporary indigenous characters and those living traditional lives connected to what they call “Mother Jungle”. With filmmaker Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent) setting the visual precedent with a first episode where the camera glides through the foliage and metaphysical leaps feel connected to the storytelling, the series is intriguing but never merely exotic.
THE SPLIT S1 (Stan, six episodes): For those old enough to remember, there’s an (updated) dash of that 1980s television hit L.A. Law to this London-set drama, which uses the legal backdrop of competing London divorce lawyers to the wealthy to examine the familial cost of both breaking away and being close to those you love. Starting at a prestigious new partnership after leaving the family firm because her mother, Ruth Defoe (Deborah Findlay), wasn’t ready to hand over the reins, Hannah Stern (Nicola Walker) juggles work, home, headline-making clients, and handsome ex-boyfriends in the office. With a tidy, utilitarian aesthetic, the show is hectic but never trite – creator Abi Morgan (The Hour, Suffragette) consistently digs down into the friction of family, which is exacerbated by professional rivalry and personal connection. With the father (Anthony Head) who walked out decades prior back, Hannah and her, ah, sisters have a back and forth that is acerbic, intimate, sometimes hilarious, and often deeply recognisable.
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
New on Netflix: Vertigo (1958, 128 minutes) remains Alfred Hitchcock’s finest movie: a study of romantic obsession and male denial starring James Stewart and Kim Novak told with ravishing technique and psychological detail; Denzel Washing broke bad in Training Day (2001, 122 minutes), playing a corrupt Los Angeles cop bamboozling Ethan Hawke’s rookie, with a performance that turned his screen charisma a delicious notch away from expectations.
New on SBS on Demand: Digging deeper into cinematic obsessions he’d previously put aside, Julieta (2016, 95 minutes) was a striking return to form for Pedro Almodovar, telling the story of an estrangement between mother and daughter that creates minor moments and vast repercussions as guilt circulates through successive generations.
New on Stan: As a collaborator, Greta Gerwig proved to be a tonic for Noah Baumbach, with Frances Ha (2012, 83 minutes) offering a distinct female protagonist whose desires are both problematic and illuminating; Down to You (2000, 92 minutes) is a salient reminder that for a short period of time there were romantic comedies starring Freddie Prinze Jr. being made.
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