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Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s ‘Riot Police’ Brings a Big-Screen Punch to TV Drama

Movistar Plus Riot Police
Courtesy of Lidia Mosquera Beceiro/Movistar Plus

It is fitting in many ways that Movistar Plus’ “Riot Police” (“Antidisturbios”) saw its world premiere in a theater at one of Europe’s biggest film festivals: September’s San Sebastian in Spain.

Feted by the domestic press — “the best Spanish series of the year,” trumpeted newspaper El Mundo — the Movistar Plus original series has closed sales to France and Latin America with “partners of the highest caliber,” “Riot Police” producer Domingo Corral, Movistar head of original programming, said at San Sebastián.

Co-written — with regular writing partner Isabel Peña and Eduardo Villanueva — and directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen, “Riot Police” marks just the latest entry in the seemingly unending diaspora of renowned Spanish cineastes into drama series creation. Director of the 2019 Academy Award-nominated short “Madre” and a short-lived TV director, Sorogoyen broke out as a film director with his first solo feature, 2016’s “May God Save Us,” a San Sebastian screenplay winner, and then 2018’s “The Realm,” which swept seven Goyas last year.

Sorogoyen returns to TV at a time when a sea-change is sweeping over high-end drama series: Such is the onus on originality in the high-end drama series space that directors are able to experiment to a point now seen only in the niche of art-film fare.

“Riot Police’s” storyline is sparked by an undermanned police intervention unit, bungling an eviction in a Senagalese community in Madrid. The tragic results prompts an internal affairs investigation driven by Laia (Vicky Luengo), a high-achieving but brutally honest female officer.

The idea for “Riot Police” came after true events, such as the engagement in October 2018 of heavily armed and armored paramilitary police forces in a series of violent, heavy-handed clashes with unarmed Catalan separatist protesters.

“I saw these police who were unaware of why they were beating these totally helpless people and then cruelly denying it,” Sorogoyen told Variety before San Sebastian.

“How can these officers go home later and be the most wonderful parent or partner?” he says. “Those things aren’t mutually exclusive. So that fascination with dichotomy in a human being led us to tell this story.”

“Riot Police” also pays testament to the mold-breaking experiments bold cineastes can bring to drama series.

“The series I’ve seen very rarely evolve in style,” Sorogoyen said at a San Sebastian press conference. “Riot Police” does, the eviction shot with hand-held, anamorphic fisheye lenses, which gives viewers a sense of accompanying the police’s six members as they try to put through the eviction. By episode six, Sorogoyen isn’t using anamorphic lenses at all. “I wanted spectators to distance themselves from the action, see it in a less involved manner.”

In the final episode, Sorogoyen shoots a police unit reunion dinner via a 15-minute sequence shot, the camera swinging between close-ups of individual members as their tensions surface and bonhomie unravels.

Such technical virtuosity is rarely seen in drama series, but it serves, Sorogoyen maintained, to illustrate character.

“Our aim, intrinsically, when we write a screenplay, is to try to understand human beings. The axis of ‘Riot Police’ is its characters, not the plot,” Sorogoyen insisted at San Sebastian. Corral and Sorogoyen signaled at San Sebastian that they and “Riot Police” producer Sofia Caballo are now working on a second season. “We’re want to continue working together. They’re a hugely talented team and Movistar’s strategy is to surround itself with talent,” Corral said.