Netflix UK TV review: Carmel: Who Killed María Marta
Helen Archer | On 24, Nov 2020
While María Marta García Belsunce’s murder is notorious in Argentina, having dominated their news cycle for over a decade, it’s probably safe to say that it will be new to most of the viewers of this Netflix documentary series. Which is both a blessing and a curse. For those of us coming to it blind, director Alejandro Hartmann has a job on his hands – there’s a lot of information to be packed in to four hour-long episodes.
The first instalment deals with the death itself. In late October 2002, in an affluent gated community in Pilar, Buenos Aires, sociologist and philanthropist María Marta was enjoying a normal Sunday. She played tennis, while her husband, Carlos Carrascosa, visited a neighbouring relative to watch a football match. But when tennis was called off early on account of some unexpected rain, María Marta went home to wait for a 7pm visit from her masseuse. When Carlos returned to the house, he found his wife slumped over a bathtub, fully dressed, face down in the bathtub with pools of blood coming from a wound in her head.
The masseuse helped Carlos pull María Marta from the bathtub, called for help, and from there a chaotic scene began, which would impact the rest of the family’s lives. Two different doctors were called; María Marta was pronounced dead. The assumption of the family – and at least one of the medics called to the scene – was that she had slipped and banged her head on a tap. This assumption led to the bathroom being cleaned of blood – and vital evidence. A small piece of lead, later identified as a bullet, was flushed down the toilet. Funeral arrangements were rushed, and it was only at the last minute that an autopsy was conducted. It found five bullet holes in the head of María Marta.
Thus begins a tumultuous tale of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy. Members of the family, journalists and lawyers line up to try to make some sense of it. It’s set up as a closed-room Agatha Christie-style murder mystery – we are told by various commentators that the murderer had to have come from inside Pilar’s prestigious gated community. As the series progresses, however, it becomes clear that is not the case. As fingers point towards a neighbour, we also find out that “outsiders” could have gained access to the house, which may well have been the target for a burglary, fatally interrupted by María Marta’s early arrival home.
Such hypotheses, though, don’t get in the way of prosecutor Diego Molina Pico, who laser-focuses on Carlos and his family from early on in the investigations. Suspicious of the cleaned-up crime scene, his interviews show him to be convinced of a conspiracy between María Marta’s nearest and dearest, which also somehow involves the medics, the masseuse, and various other bit-players. Other suspects barely seem to cross his mind. He pursues the family with an almost religious fervour, tangling them up in court action for the next ten years. Some of most fascinating parts of the series come from the juxtaposition of Pico and María Marta’s family – the seemingly balanced, calm and single-minded prosecutor versus a clan which is altogether more emotive, angry and occasionally caustic. It makes for a fascinating back-and-forth, a cat-and-mouse chase between a flawed prosecutor and a family caught in his crossfire.
Later episodes cover the ins-and-outs of the courtroom, with some absorbing testimony, including audio of the phone calls made on the night in question to emergency services. The media circus surrounding the case is well documented, as is the way in which it gripped the Argentinian public in the manner of a telenovela. And yet there are a few holes in the series. Key witnesses and suspects have obviously opted out of involvement, and some of the narrative is rushed and confusing. It is, at times, difficult to get to grips with the nuances of the case. The makers, though, seem aware of this, and every time the action gets slightly too frenetic, we are pulled back to a manageable timeline, putting a sober lens on a train wreck of an investigation. While ultimately the documentary does not completely demystify the murder of María Marta, it does its best to wrench her death away from the frenzied melodrama which followed it.
Carmel: Who Killed María Marta is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.