BURNING BODY Review: Tangled Up in Love

Úrsula Corberó, Quim Gutiérrez, and José Manuel Poga star in a Netflix limited series, based on a true story.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
BURNING BODY Review: Tangled Up in Love

Some people spend years searching for a partner in life.

Burning Body (En cuerpo de llamas)
The eight-episode limited series begins streaming Friday, September 8, 2023, exclusively on Netflix. I've seen all eight episodes.

On May 2, 2017, a dead body was discovered in a burnt-out car at the Foix Reservoir, near Barcelona, Spain. What does that have to do with Rosa Pernal (Úrsula Corberó)?

Rosa, a member of the Barcelona local police force, is on leave for depression. She is first seen speaking directly to the camera (a visual choice to represent typing a text message), as she communicates anxiously with her boyfriend, Pedro (José Manuel Poga, a bad guy on Netflix's Money Heist), a fellow member of the local police, who, after an argument, has left the house they share with Rosa's young daughter, Sofia (Guiomar Caiado).

As if her day wasn't stressful enough, Rosa meets with her ex-husband, Javi (Isak Férriz), a member of the Mossos d'Esquadra (the police squad charged with oversight of all law enforcement in Catalonia), and their respective attorneys to discuss an acrimonious divorce settlement. Later, convinced by her loving and supportive parents, Rosa heads to a party with her friend, Albert (Quim Gutiérrez), a fellow police officer, with the idea in mind to let off some steam and relax, which she does.

The next day, Inspector Verano (Eva Llorach), of the Mossos d'Esquadra, arrives at Rosa's door. The upshot of the conversation is that it was Pedro whose body was found in the burnt-out car. Thus begins a maelstrom of emotions that get turned completely on their head by the end of the first episode.

Created and written by Laura Sarmiento, based on a true story, the directing duties were split between Jorge Torregrossa (the first three and the final two episodes) and Laura Mañá (who helmed the other two episodes). Readers in Spain may be well aware of the case, but I was not, which informed my reaction to it.

The series treats its source material, which it acknowledges at the outset has been changed for dramatic purposes, as a highly-charged, grounded story that sometimes feels like a hotblooded, somewhat conventional telenovela, complete with desperate sex scenes and inflamed passions. Yet that is outweighed by even more urgent search for love on the part of Rosa, who frequently declares her all-consuming love for her beloved daughter, Sofia.

She exhibits persistently warm affection toward Sofia and her parents, always treating them with dignity and respect. She may fall in love quickly, but she loves deeply; she is searching for the perfect match for herself and Sofia, and is not afraid to assert her independence from the men who enter her life, as well as to insist on better treatment.

Some people find their partners early in life, but the rest of us are like Rosa: always searching, always hoping, and only sometimes finding. Like many people, she always wants to be with someone, to be part of a couple, to be part of a family. She doesn't deal with loneliness very well, and that fear of being alone causes her to take actions that raise questions in the minds of others -- but she always knows what she's doing, or at least thinks that she does, even if others do not agree with her.

On a personal note, not to step on any toes (and acknowledging that my background is Mexican, not Spanish), there remains a long history of men seeking to assert their dominance over women, and that seems to play out more than a few times in the series, in which men expect that women will act in a subservient manner and not act upon their own agency. Nothing is stated outrightly about this sub-theme in the series, but it's something I felt surging as an undercurrent throughout. (Not that that justifies anything that happens. Still, it's there.)

As a whole, the cast is very, very good, and completely convincing. Úrsula Corberó (Netflix' Money Heist and a number of other series) captures the many subtle shifts in Rosa; her wariness, her sudden outbursts, her anger, and her ready eagerness to please, as well as her deeper emotions, those are much more difficult to fathom. She is a compelling center to the narrative, which quickly becomes engrossing.

Burning Body is an easy series to binge; the episodes become more compelling as they go. Every episode I wondered where the series could possibly go next. (Full disclosure: yes, I could have done a quick internet search. Somehow, I resisted the urge to research the true story.) After I watched the entire series, I rewatched the first episode, which is even better the second time around.

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José Manuel PogaNetflixQuim GutiérrezSpainÚrsula Corberó

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