Tuesday, November 08, 2005

HBO's Epitafios - Argentinian Crime Fiction done right

HBO constantly stretches the envelope in television production, even with genre shows. Epitafios, which runs on HBO Latino, is a cop show with numerous layers, plot twists and deep characterizations. It is also available on HBO On Demand, and comes with English subtitles, if one needs them.

An ex-cop, Renzo, who left the police force in Buenos Aires five years ago after a hostage situation went bad, is pulled back into the game when his ex-partner, Benitez discovers a gruesome crime scene - a headless body and two empty graves with gravestones for the two cops and the pychologist on the school hostage case. Soon after, the missing head is found in the psychologist's, Laura's car - it is that of the hostage-taker, a disaffected school teacher. The rest of the first episode serves to provide background material on the inter-relationship between the main protagonists, before a macabre plot twist complicates the situation and sets the stage for an intricate hunt for a serial killer.

The plot twists continue, and the body count continues unabated. Along the way, the relationships become more unbalanced - there's never a dull moment, as it were.

Epitafios, or Epitaphs, is the first original series produced by HBO Latin America, in association with Pol-Ka, who has made other fine television thrillers in Argentina. The rich complexity is indicative of the polychronous perspective on life inherent in South American and other cultures, one that permits a simultaneity of intnet and action at multiple levels. This works to our favor as consumers of the series, and is in keeping with the neorealist HBO metaphor of film-making.

Argentinian crime fiction has a long history. It has traditionally been rooted in social and political metaphors, coupled with black humor that gives it a distinctive flavor. Men of honor deal with issues of trust and betrayal, while their worlds crumble. The hero is usually steadfast, yet flawed - all very Latin and tragic. THe first notable crime series, El Septimo Circulo, had illustrious creators, the writers Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy-Casares. Borges and Casares wrote a number of collaborative works under the pseudonym, H. Bustos Domecq. Other luminaries of Argentinian crime fiction include Rodolfo Jorge Walsh and Mempo Giardinelli. There is some dispute on whether the hard-boiled school of crime writing began in Argentina and moved to the United States or the other way round.

Epitafios gets better with each episode, it also gets darker - there's no telling which way it will turn in the few episodes remaining, but it's a show worth watching.

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