Produced and showrun by Vanessa Ragone, an Oscar-winner for “The Secret of Her Eyes,” the Argentinian true crime miniseries dives deep into the still ongoing case of the murder of María Marta García Belsunce. “Carmel, Who Killed Maria Marta?” was released on Netflix reigniting the public’s attention and curiosity.
What was deemed an accident quickly transformed into a five-gunshot murder which has piqued the fascination of the country over the last two decades. An Agatha Christies-style murder mystery enclosed into the safe and sterilized environment of the Carmel country club.
Directed by Alejandro Hartmann, the miniseries tackles the titanic task of organizing the hundreds of hours of archive material alongside lengthy interviews with the key characters to give the audience a birds-eye view of the event. The more detailed and meticulous the series gets, the more intricate and perplexing the case becomes, leaving the viewers with just enough to make up their own minds.
Alongside “Nisman: The Prosecutor, The President and The Spy,” the Haddock Films’ production is a clear and immediate exponent of Argentina’s talent to generate engrossing true crime narratives explored in sophisticated fiction.
Variety caught up with Ragone and Hartmann about the case, public opinion and how to get the most out of interviews.
The case is immediately interesting on its own, but the success of this show will have a lot to do with how you tell the story. Could you talk about how this project came about?
Hartmann: As an Argentinian, I was aware of the case, and for a while I had talked about it with Sofia Mora, one of the investigators and writers. Obviously, the case itself has a very cinematographic component, yet it seemed to us that if this story were fiction it would have bizarre, almost comical elements. The case was unsolved, there was a victim, and there was nothing funny about it, so the idea of doing it in fiction did not quite sit with us. Then two years ago two more screenwriters, Lucas Bucci and Tomás Sposato, came along and pointed out that this could work as a miniseries. I thought we had to do something big with this, we knew that neither the prosecutor nor the family had ever talked publicly before, so I took the project Vanessa.
Ragone: For my part, I had thought of producing a fictional story about the case, in fact I had produced “The Widows of Thursdays” which is based on a novel about this crime. But like Alex and the creative team, I saw that the case was still open, and the judicial issues were not resolved, above all it gave me the feeling that the real characters were much more interesting than any invention we could make with a fiction script. There was something profoundly interesting in these people, in their lives, in their ways of working. When Alejandro brought me the project, I really understood that this was the right format. I knew that we needed a strong production approach, so we went to Netflix who boarded right away.
There is no doubt that true crime documentaries are in vogue, but yours has a distinct feel to it. Which references did you have when working on it?
Hartmann: I am a big fan of Errol Morris, and in particular “The Thin Blue Line,” which for me is almost an inaugural film of the genre. When making “Carmel” we found inspiration there like this idea of working the different versions. Beyond formal filmmaking decisions we drew from Morris, we thought it was interesting that in his work everything has a piece of truth, all points of view have some truth to them, and equally there is something a bit wrong in each.
In a couple episodes there are hints about the social tension that the white-collar crime raised. Could you comment?
Ragone: The crime happened in a closed-off and inaccessible space for most Argentines. At that time, it was an unknown world with its own rules. Cluadia Piñeiro, a novelist who covered crime, mentions that even ambulances or police officers must request authorization to get in. They have rules of their own which complicated the possibility of learning what had happened. They try to resolve things internally, so that was something there that for us was fundamental to get across in the series. There was a great deal of social tension around this case, which has exploded on social media since the show aired. People felt challenged again by a social class that sometimes believes that they can handle things as they see fit, shirking questions of common sense and justice.
Hartmann: We were interested in the plot and how cinematic it was, and we always saw all these layers. This is a story that ultimately speaks of deep divisions and prejudices which are common in the way we Argentines relate to one another. We have always thought this series speaks about several topics, and that was part of what makes it interesting.
On a second viewing there are many hints of the interviewees which allow for further interpretation. This feels the result of a well-done interview. What was your approach when interviewing?
Hartmann: It seemed to me that everyone was telling their version of the truth, so I believed what they were telling me. When I do an interview, I try to come from the naivest position possible, hoping to create empathy by being in that moment and believing the person in that moment. There were several default questions, but only a few. For me, one key technical part of this production was building spaces where the interviews could have a great artistic and aesthetic quality, while also being comfortable spaces for the interviewees and for me as an interviewer. That’s not always guaranteed, but it was the case this time.