Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Epitafios on HBO Signature and HBO on Demand

A while back, HBO launched HBO Latino for cable and satellite subscribers with the ability to get multiple HBO channels on their television systems. They have done a pretty good job in highlighting some great films coming from Latin America and Spain but Epitafios, filmed in Buenos Aires in 2003 for HBO Latin America (and shown in South America last year), became their first foray into developing multi-series programming specifically in Spanish.

The stand alone 13-episode run already premiered States-wide on the HBO Latino in Spanish. Now, for the fisrt time, it runs with English subtitles on HBO Signature (starting tonight) and HBO on demand. It is getting some good reviews including this one in todays' Washington Post.

Unconventional in its bleakness and sometimes gruesome cruelty, the show is a mix of the film "Seven" and the US TV show "CSI: Miami." A serial killer goes on a killing rampage through the city of Buenos Aires (beautifully captured by the cinematographers) to avenge the police bungling of a kidnapping case in which four high-school students ended up burned to death years earlier. The series takes its time to reveal the true reasons for the vengeful murders but manages to keep suspense even after the killer's face is revealed. Ultimately, for a first try at a Spanish language series, HBO has done OK. Unfortunately...


... if you tune in to see Almodovar star Celia Roth, you will be in for a surprise since she doe not appear until the later episodes. She plays a tough-as-nails policewoman who seems to have the strength and smarts to capture the killer and, in fact, she is the first one to identify him. Unfortunately, a side-story about her willing participation in a series of deadly games of Russian-roulette and a failure in logic as the killer hands her a gun and she choses to shoot someone else fully knowing that she might be the next victim, fails to convince. Then again, most of the policemen in the film are so inept it's no wonder more than 50 people die by the series' end.

Continuity problems abound, specially during the later episodes, as night becomes day becomes night in what seems to be mere minutes. Most laughable is a scene in which a police officer calls a man to warn him that he will be the next victim. The man has already been abducted but his cell-phone has been left behind on a park bench. When a jogger picks up the phone and answers the policeman's call with a "Hello?" the policeman cuts off the call in anger without saying a thing and tells his partners "Damn! The killer already has him! A park jogger picked up the phone!" (hm, not having spoken to the jogger at all, how exactly would he know this?).

Most dissapointingly, at least for me, was the identity of the serial killer. The moment I saw him walk into his first scene, I had a feeling that it would be her. Renzo, the policeman who telepathically guessed that the cell-phone had been left in a park, is seen at the begining of the series driving a cab for a living (he retires from the police after bungling the kidnapping rescue mentioned earlier). One of his regular passengers is a transgender woman who supplies him with black-market anti-depressants. As the story develops, it turns out that the transgender woman is actually a gay man whose former lover was one of the students who was burned to death. He wants to avenge his lover's death and make everyone who was involved in the botched kidnapping rescue suffer as much as he did. Antonio Birabent plays the character with some abandon but never truly convinces. Ultimately I was extremely dissapointed that once again, the freak serial killer turned out to be a gay man who might also seem gender-confused.

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