Customer Reviews: Epitafios - The Complete First Season
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on September 17, 2006
This outstanding miniseries marks HBO's first foray into Latin American TV. It centres around a serial killer who is methodically killing off people connected to a botched hostage rescue at a local Buenos Aires highschool five years earlier. Ex-detective Renzo Marquez (Julio Chavez) was responsible for the disaster in which four 16-year old hostages burnt to death. Someone is now seeking revenge. The story revolves around the retired detective and his ex-lover, the psychiatrist Laura Santini (Paola Krum). Santini had the misfortune of acting as hostage negotiator during the seige. Both are the main targets but the killer delights in a sadistic cat-and-mouse game as he spares them while despatching other victims in increasingly bizarre and gruesome ways, accompanying each with a tombstone carved with a cryptic epitaph outlining their supposed crime, hence the title.

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."
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on June 22, 2006
I was a little hesitant before initially viewing the 13-part Argentinean miniseries import, "Epitafios" (Epitaphs). There had been so much attendant hyperbole that I thought there was no way it could live up to its buzz. I am pleased to say that I couldn't have been more wrong.

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.
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VINE VOICEon August 17, 2006
"Epitafios" is more violent than "The Sopranos," stranger than "Carnivale" and features characters at least as damaged as the "Six Feet Under" undertakers. But for El Norte viewers with savory tastes and strong stomachs to match, "Epitafios" is a seriously cool find. Think "Seven" churned with "Millennium," "The Wire" and a dash of telenova passion.

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.
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VINE VOICEon April 23, 2011
This mini-series is entertaining in parts, but there's too little plot to last 13 episodes. The serial killer is always one step ahead of the cops, but we never know how he's attained his mad phat skillz, and come to the conclusion that he's just one very lucky serial killer. It also helps that the Argentine cops are as completely inept as they seem to be, and, as others have observed, actually get dumber as the series goes along. The one thing I learned from this series is that if I ever want to turn to a life of crime, I'm going to Buenos Aires, since the police there seem to be totally ineffectual at policing. This is an okay time waster, but if you want some real serial killer thrills that won't make you suspend your disbelief to this extent, try Dexter...
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on October 11, 2011
This is a great series from HBO South America. It maintains interest, fascination, suspense, and intrigue throughout all 13 episodes of the first series, which is one long search for a sadistic serial killer in Buenos Aires.

I say this despite some gaping holes in the story and some rather unbelievable plot points, mostly involving the apparent complete ineptitude of the Buenos Aires police -- or, to be more specific, the one detective who seems to be responsible for the capture of this madman. But I suppose perfect police procedure would be too boring, and not make for very compelling TV.

The story centers around the bloody aftermath of the killing of four high school students five year prior to the opening of the series. It focuses on the cat-and-mouse game between the killer and the detective whose blundering behavior was, in great part, responsible for the earlier tragedy. His macho gangbusters attitude throughout the series continually calls to mind the term 'bull in a china shop'. You will not believe the collateral damage that follows in his wake as he relentlessly, blindly, and unthinkingly pursues the killer who takes quiet, if painful, revenge on everyone who had anything to do with the loss of his special friend five years before -- and anyone else who gets in the way.

The killer is brilliant and methodical in his savagery, eluding discovery and arrest completely. One must think, however, that some good old-fashioned procedural research might have lead the police to him a whole lot sooner. But never mind that, the series is nothing if not about the inept, deceitful, and self-serving nature of human beings -- police, husbands, wives, children, and killers. Of these failings, we have a veritable cornucopia here.

The scenes of unspeakable cruelty, I must add, are well-done and more suggestive than overt -- but powerful and horrifying, nevertheless. Just the idea is enough. The series is beautifully filmed, edited, and acted, though I would love to have seen more shots of the great city in which the story is set. All we get are some fast-edit aerials which take the viewer from one scene to another.
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on September 8, 2009
I was drawn to this series because I have suddenly become fascinated by Buenos Aires and Argentina.
"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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on July 10, 2006
I just finished watching this mini-series on HBO and loved it. I was even more excited when the DVD release was announced. This mini-series is a little bit of "Saw", "Six Feet Under" and "Silence of the Lambs". An excellent horror/thriller crime drama that is very addictive. You will never figure out all the plot twists. The DVD will have a dubbed version, unlike the subtitled HBO version. The rising star here is Antonio Birabent. He is brilliant and I hope he does some English speaking roles soon.
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on February 5, 2013
For people who loves suspense, this show is awesome. I saw a few chapters on HBO before since them I decided to get them all. We still watching the show every night with my bf, he doesn't like foreign movies but he loves this one.
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on December 11, 2007
See other reviews for details about this series. It's awesome! Seriously, Hollywood should fire its striking writers (since the product they produce lately is pretty amateurish and pathetic anyway) and hire some of these foreign production writers.

Regarding the quality, it's excellent. OK, yes, it is presented in full screen mode, but that's actually standard for most foreign films, because they rely on the the space in the bottom black bar for subtitle captioning. But it could also be that presenting it in the widescreen mode would make it more grainy. After all, this series was filmed on 16mm film. In the full screen mode, projected onto a 112" diagonal home theater screen, it looked perfectly fine, like any good quality film.

Yes, you can't examine actors' pores for zits and blackheads like you can with HD widescreen, but frankly, that's not what I watch films for.

The sound quality is excellent. The behind-the-scenes bonus is interesting too.

Well worth getting a copy to enjoy over and over again.
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on April 8, 2013
bought this based on some of the reviews from this site.and can say I don't think it deserves all the praise.Story has it exciting moments ,but by the end I had lost interest. Lead character at times is annoying ,and the plot is unrealistic ,however if you cant find anything else, and have time to kill ,and can get it at a good price.Purchase it
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