Thursday, September 29, 2022

A Rip-roaring Iberian Puzzler

If you aren’t already watching A Private Affair—which debuted on September 23—you really should give that new, eight-part Prime Video series a try. The Spanish murder mystery (dubbed in English) is set in Galicia in 1948, and stars enchanting Aura Garrido as Marina Quiroga, the upper-class daughter of a highly respected but deceased police commissioner, who—thanks to her father’s years of mentoring—is no slouch when it comes to investigating. She’d probably make an extraordinary police detective … if she weren’t a woman and therefore unqualified to join the local constabulary.

(Left) Garrido and Reno in A Private Affair.

Now, after witnessing the violent stabbing death of a woman on the docks, she resolves—much against the wishes of her overprotective elder brother, Arturo (played by Pablo Molinero), who has himself recently been inaugurated as police commissioner—to identify and capture the killer. In this enterprise, she enlists the assistance of her family’s longtime butler, Héctor Hugo (acclaimed French film star Jean Reno). He is reluctant to undertake such a dangerous venture, but does so in order to improve the odds of Marina’s survival. (“You essentially want to turn me into Watson,” he complains early on in the story. To which she responds, with a small smile: “You’re more a Poirot.”)

Granted, Marina is sometimes too daring for her own good. Brown-haired, slim, 5 feet 4 inches tall, with green eyes, and probably in her early 30s (like the actress who plays her), she is frequently the target of admiring male gazes, yet has demonstrated profound disinterest in settling down. (A society journalist describes her, with feigned regard, as one of “the 10 most beautiful spinsters in the city.”) At the same time, Marina is an athletic combatant, able to incapacitate a man larger than herself, and proficient with a handgun to boot. I think of her as part Nancy Drew (a perceptive, dogged amateur sleuth) and part Batman (given her flowing capes and skirts, and her attic lair full of bulletin boards, scientific equipment, and criminology magazines), with a bit of Perils of Pauline heedlessness thrown in. She can be sexy and flirtatious when useful, but doesn’t shy from humbling a misogynist with her hard-won intelligence.

Marina must bring all of her skills to bear if she’s to subdue a serial killer who carves a fleur-de-lis into the décolletage of each of his female victims, and who may have been active off and on for many years. Arturo Quiroga is slow to acknowledge these predatory patterns and muster the manpower needed to curtail this killer’s latest spree. In the meantime, Marina and Héctor, with some backing from a pair of very different cops—the good-hearted Pablo Zarco (Gorka Otxoa), another of Marina’s father’s prize students, and Andrés Castaño (Álex García), a Lothario of dubious honesty and rapacious manner—track the murderer across the northwestern corner of Spain, from a moonlit monument to a gaudy performance hall, a grandiose party for libertines, and a remote mental institution. At every turn, it seems, Marina finds a fresh way to put her life at risk, whether by tumbling from a speeding train, crashing to earth in a flaming seaplane, scampering across tiled rooftops and leaping between buildings, or careening down streets in a red-and-white Hudson Hornet (an anachronism, as that car model didn’t debut till 1951).

Combining whodunit and adventure elements with humor and feminism, A Private Affair is an energetic, beautifully photographed series that, for all its retro vibes, feels quite modern.

(Above) A thrilling teaser for A Private Affair (or Un Asunto Privado in Spanish). (Below) The show’s opening title sequence changes with every episode, previewing plot twists to come. This example is drawn from the first installment, “Fleur de lis.”

Aura Garrido reportedly based her portrayal of the confident, courageous Marina Quiroga “on the roles of Maureen O’Hara, the indomitable pirate queen of classic cinema.” “She created characters who were, at least in my childhood vision, a little more interesting, who had strength, who were brave,” Garrido explained to the press. “I thought a lot about her to create Marina.” However, there’s another aspect to Marina, one bent around her relationshops. She lives constantly with the sorrow of having lost her father three years ago—and with him a determined advocate for her dream of becoming more than simply a wife and parent. Marina’s mother, Doña Asunción (Ángela Molina), is an adoring but demanding eccentric, over-fond of absinthe, who wants to see Marina wed, and finds her daughter’s crime-solving escapades embarrassing to their family. Although both Zarco and Castaño appear romantically intrigued by our heroine, the bond Marina values most is the one she shares with Héctor, who she has lived around long enough to value his insights, recognize his “tells” (including his tendency to pull on an earlobe when lying), and want to protect him as much as he strives to keep her safe.

The series’ gorgeous setting adds still further to its appeal.

I’ve spent some time on the Iberian Peninsula, but never been to Galicia, so I appreciated the introduction this series offered to that ancient land, once part of the Roman Empire. According to its entry in Wikipedia, A Private Affair was originally supposed to have been shot (in 2020 and 2021) around the central Spanish capital of Madrid, as well as in the northern metropolis of Bilbao. But the COVID-19 pandemic altered those plans. Instead, filming took place “around Vigo, Pontevedra, Lérez, and other locations in the Rías Baixas.”

A final note: This program is the result of a production deal between Amazon Prime and the Spanish TV company Bambú Producciones (which was also responsible for the Netflix period dramas Cable Girls and High Seas). The Private Affair cast uttered their lines in Spanish, of course, but they’ve been dubbed for American audiences. Which is fine, except that the subtitles you can engage through Prime occasionally disagree greatly with the dubbing. My advice? Turn off the subtitles and simply listen to the English translation.

That’s what I shall do if and when this delightful show wins a sophomore season. There were ample unresolved questions left at the end of Episode 8. We can only hope Amazon allows Marina and Héctor to demonstrate more of their snooping talents soon.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Jeff Been looking for something like this.