Oscar-nominated Spanish filmmaker Rodrigo Sorogoyen (“Mother”) cut his teeth in TV a decade ago before migrating to cinema, co-directing 2013’s “Stockholm” and his own breakout solo feature “May God Save Us,” which marked him as one of Spain’s foremost young crossover talents.
Now, he and long-time writing partner Isabel Peña have returned to the small screen with their upcoming Movistar Plus original series “Riot Police” (“Antidisturbios”). Set to world-premiere at this year’s San Sebastian Film Festival, where high-end series have increasingly been a part of the event’s most exciting offerings, it is also where Sorogoyen’s own recent history has borne fruit. In 2016, “May God Save Us” took the jury prize for screenplay.
“Riot Police” explores the lives of six members of Furgón 93, part of Spain’s Police Intervention Unit of its National Police Corps, who execute a complicated eviction in the heart of a Senegalese community in Madrid. When that goes tragically awry, an internal affairs team is charged with investigating the events.
The arrival of “Riot Police” could hardly be more timely. On Oct. 1, 2018, heavily armed and armored paramilitary police forces were sent to Barcelona by the federal government, where they engaged in a series of violent, heavy-handed clashes with unarmed Catalan separatist protesters.
“Those tremendous and shocking police interventions left a legacy of horrible images, many still etched in my memory,” Sorogoyen recalls while discussing his new series with Variety. “I saw these police who were unaware of why they were beating these totally helpless people and then cruelly denying it.”
From those images came the question that would become the thesis of “Riot Police.”
“How can these officers go home later and be the most wonderful parent or partner? Those things aren’t mutually exclusive. So that fascination with dichotomy in a human being led us to tell this story.”
After five years in cinema and a string of international festival hits, Sorogoyen returns to TV a changed filmmaker. Gone are the formalities of decades of Spanish TV traditions, replaced by the sentiments of one of Europe’s most distinctive independent filmmakers, now given free rein to create.
Although there is plenty of action across the series’ six episodes, “Riot Police” kicks off at a family board game night that turns awkward when accusations of cheating arise, forecasting the dialogue-driven character arcs that propel the series forward and the priority its creators put on representing the characters as three-dimensional humans. The juxtaposition makes the show’s eventual propulsive action sequences that much more rewarding.
“I look to do something that is believable, both to my own satisfaction and for the public,” Sorogoyen says. “There are many honest ways to tell a story well, but I always try to find something from the characters’ own perspectives to show me the way.”
Sorogoyen’s work has always been immersive and subjective. He introduces the audience to a story through the eyes of dubious characters who beg ethical questions and never come across as entirely reliable.
“We knew the viewer was going to cast judgments while watching this series. Furgón 93 is a controversial group. From Episode 1, I wanted the viewer to be a riot cop. I didn’t want to shoot them raiding a house from the outside. I wanted the viewer to experience it, almost like a video game, and feel what it was to be there and face that situation, with the violence they exert.”
Sorogoyen’s control over his cinematic language is highlighted by the subjective nature of those first-person shots. His staging, camera movements and lens choices are all in tune with a clear understanding of how to give an unfiltered yet well curated experience to the audience.