Epitafios: The Complete First Season [Import]
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From Buenos Aires with dread comes Epitafios, a devastating, gag-inducing, and gut-wrenching 13-part miniseries, produced by HBO for Latin America, but was such a sensation it earned a subtitled American broadcast and DVD release. Those creepily compelled by Se7en, or who breathlessly awaited the unmasking of the Carver on Nip/Tuck will be hooked into Epitafos from first corpse to last (the body count is substantial). Things get off to a shocking start with the discovery of the gruesomely dismembered body of a former professor, who five years earlier had taken hostage four students, all of whom died when a rescue attempt went horribly awry. Now, someone is methodically killing those who had a direct and indirect connection with the tragedy. Reluctantly pulled back on to the case is psyche-scarred Renzo (Julio Chavez), the suicidal and self-pitying former cop who blames himself for the students' deaths. He quit the force and is now a cab driver. His old friend on the force, the grizzled Benitez (Lito Cruz), recruits him to help when two tombstones bearing their names are found at the crime scene. Sharing Renzo's tombstone is the name of beautiful psychologist Laura Santini (Paolo Krum), who was treating the professor when he flipped out, and with whom Renzo, her patient, had fallen in love.
It gets creepier. Much creepier. In advance of each murder, the killer sends the police fiendishly enigmatic tombstone epitaphs (hence the title), among them: "Here lies he who never should have trusted his best friend" and "Here lies he who turned deception into a game." He also seems to be everywhere and to be able to anticipate his pursuers' every move. He leaves an ominous message for Laura on her child's balloon before she picks him up at school. He ignites the outlines of body drawings on the street where one of his victims will be passing. The despair in Epitafios is palpable. It makes Se7en look like the feel-good movie of the century. It also thinks nothing of pulling the rug out from under viewers expecting major characters to survive the miniseries, or introducing others, such as homicide investigator Marina (Ceclia Roth), with very heavy emotional baggage of their own. But you won't be able to look away, even when you're terrified of what you'll see next. --Donald Liebenson
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Top Customer Reviews
You have never heard about "Epitafios"? Well, don't worry, I will tell you what this series is about, in general lines. "Epitafios" is basically an outstanding suspense drama that will keep you at the edge of your seat every episode, or at least as long as you can take it. By that, I mean that even if this series is very good, it is not for everybody, due to the fact that it has a lot of gut-wrenching violence, and the kind of tense scenes that make you extremely nervous.
On the other hand, if you are still reading this and don't scare easily, this might just be a series that will interest you. The plot is simple, but effective, and the cast is superb. The story begins when the dismembered body of someone closely connected with an old tragedy is found, and we learn that a killer is on the loose. The aim of this murderer is to kill those that have some kind of connection with that disastrous event. The only clues that he will give his victims are the tombstones epitaphs he tauntingly sends to the police before killing someone. Will they be able to stop him, or is the end already written?
"Epitafios" is an excellent series, but again, not for everybody. Take into consideration what I say, and decide for yourself if it is the kind of police thriller that you feel like watching...
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Made in Argentina with an excellent all Spanish-speaking cast, this was originally intended for broadcast only in Latin America. Its popularity and critical acclaim led to its inclusion on the US HBO-Latino channel. Now it is being released on DVD, suitably subtitled for non Spanish-speaking Americans. The miniseries consists of just 13 45-min-long episodes. It is unlike anything you've seen on TV before. It is unremittingly dark. And it is gruesome. In the opening episode, the first victim is dismembered, with his body parts strewn artistically around the house. The violence is almost always off-camera. We are shown the gory after-effects. It is definitely not for the squeamish. The identity of the killer is made known by the third episode but the tension never flags and builds inexorably to a very satisfying if dark climax. There is no happy ending. Some have described it as bleak but there is a ray of defiant optimism at the end which for me just manages to dispel the utter darkness.
This is an altogether excellent production, with a literate and suspense-filled script, complex, believable characters, and a superb all-round cast. However the HBO DVD is marred by the absence of anamorphic enhancement (not enhanced for widescreen TV). It is presented in its original 16x9 widescreen aspect but letterboxed into a standard 4x3 frame. Although the picture quality is very good for a non-anamorphic transfer, it still falls below what is possible with suitable anamorphic enhancement. Considering the high asking-price, HBO should have done better. The original Spanish 2.0 Dolby Surround track is provided. There is satisfyingly deep bass, heard best in Ivan Wyszogord's darkly throbbing score, with its haunting soprano line soaring above the gloom. Dialogue is crystal clear and the operatic exerpts are reproduced very accurately. (The killer has a penchant for Bizet's Carmen, especially for the Habanera - you hear it in every episode - if he's not listening to it, he'll be whistling it). Optional Spanish and English subtitles are provided. The only Extra is an 11-minute "Behind the Scenes" featurette in Spanish with optional English subtitles. HBO has gone out of its way to make this DVD accessible to both Spanish and English audiences. The box-art, the DVD menus and submenus, and the plot-summaries for each episode, are all available in both Spanish and English.
Note: Being a TV series, it is not rated. If this were a film submitted to the MPAA, it would likely receive an R-rating for "disturbing violence, offensive language, nudity and sexual situations."
Renzo Marquez (Julio Chavez) is an emotionally numb, part-time taxicab driver who left the police force five years earlier. Guilt-ridden and traumatized after a literal misstep on his part led to the horrific deaths of four 16-year-old students taken hostage by a mentally unbalanced professor, Renzo is living a marginal existence--with no interests and few friends, caring only for his wheelchair bound father in his spare time. Renzo is drawn back into the case that ended his fast track career when he is contacted by his former commanding officer, Captain Benitez (Lito Cruz). Upon receiving an anonymous phone call, Benitez is directed to an abandoned house that is the scene of an elaborately staged murder. In the backyard, the police discover two shallow open graves with headstones. The epitaph on one of the headstones contains Benitez's name, and the other has Renzo's name sharing space with that of Laura Santini (Paola Krum), the psychiatrist who had been called in as a consultant on the student hostage case before the whole thing went pear-shaped.
Meting out almost Biblical retributions to anyone directly or indirectly involved in the events leading up to the student deaths, the killer sees himself as an avenging angel delivering postponed justice. He leaves the bodies of his victims displayed with grotesque, almost Grand Guignol, theatricality. The killer also leaves drawings of headstones with cryptically worded epitaphs--clues to the identity of his next victim--at each new murder scene. As Renzo tries to figure out the identity and motives of the killer, potential suspects become victims, trails evaporate and red herrings appear everywhere. (The complete insanity of the killer is manifested in the emotionally charged (albeit 1-sided) conversations that he has with his "girlfriend," a huge hairy grey rat that he keeps in a cage! Pouring out his heart to his "rodent accomplice," every squeak is seen as an affirmation or a criticism. It would be hilarious--except that it is so pitiable.)
What really sets this series apart from most crime shows/police procedural mysteries is that it takes its time developing its characters. Even minor characters--usually relegated to thinly drawn types or caricatures of types--are fleshed out and given a complexity that engages the viewer's interest and emotions. You slowly come to care about these deeply flawed people whose lives and careers were destroyed as a result of the failed rescue attempt. There isn't even one wasted scene in this intense film series and the pacing is frantic and harrowing.
The music (which reminded me of the moody and emotionally rich film scores of Bernard Herrmann) and the cinematography are both really gorgeous and highly atmospheric. This is a truly engrossing film series, with first-rate acting, but may not be for the squeamish as there is a great deal of graphic violence and its aftermath. Some nudity and explicit sexuality. In Spanish, with English subtitles.
Driving the narrative is the story's brilliant young psychopath, Bruno (Antonio Birabent). He's an evildoer pulled from the same Jungian well as Hannibal Lecter -- only meaner and better looking. His obsessions include torture as an art form and Bizet's "Carmen." He's kind to corpses and his pet rat. He can't be stopped.
There's one featured murder per episode, with plenty of collateral damage. "Epitafios" specializes in making its audience care about key characters, and then ripping them away. Part of the show's voodoo is its deep reserve of ways to creep out viewers.
Good as it is, "Epitafios" isn't consistently up to first-rate horror/thriller standards -- the writing goes brain-dead here and there; the romance feels like daytime TV; the villain eventually comes off like a gay Terminator. The series' momentum sags in the middle, as the filmmakers struggle with the task of making what is essentially a 13-hour horror film.
Nevermind the quibbling. If you've read this far, you gotta check it out. "Epitafios" comes guaranteed as addictive, creepy as hell and intellectually challenging. It remains true to its grisly aesthetic to the final stop.
Side notes: The Season 1 reference seems optimistic, as Argentine co-producer Pol-ka appears unlikely to revive the series.) As to the audio questions below: Buy with confidence. It's in Spanish. Period. English subtitles. No dubbed version. More than adequate sound and images.
"epitafios" seems to have a desire to up the ante on the violence and dysfunctional characters that most Americans have now become used to on such programs as CSI Miami and the usual gore and torture porn on cable throughout the night. The pacing here, however, is not as slick as it could be. The problem : spreading out one story across a dozen episodes seems to be a mistake. It makes for suspense to be horribly drawn out, leaving the viewer exasperated. At times I couldn't bear to watch it, it just made me crazy because there is no normal catharsis as in US programs. I do lke like Renzo, he is like some tough-guy French actor. I was a bit repelled by the stereotype of a gay-cross-dressing psychopath as the serial killer. This is a cliche that really could go. Especially in a city that prides itself on its sophistication in psychology. The series also has lots of loose ends and improbably silly situations so don't look for any kind of realism in the plot. The main attraction is that it serves up the traditional crime series with a heavy dose of the Argentine's fascination with death, psychotherapy, autopsy and the macabre, not necessarily in that order. Withness the fabulous and fascinating cemetery of Buenos Aires, featured prominently in the film, la Recoleta.
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