Emboldened by the power and position granted by existing societal conventions, patriarchy displays its most vulgar face when it tries to wrest control by violating the basic rights of others—something that can leave deep wounds that not even time can heal. Director Juan Miguel del Castillo, with his second cinematic venture “Unfinished Affairs,” adapted from the novel of the same name written by Benito Olmo, shows once again that his grounded narratives will not allow an easy escape from the social problems he chooses to highlight through his movies. Starring the reliable Fred Tatien and Natalia de Molina (collaborating with the director once again) as leads, the crime noir examines the horror of patriarchal violence and the far-reaching effects of it on the people caught in its loop.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Unfinished Affairs’?
As the movie begins, viewers are taken to the messy apartment bedroom of the middle-aged police lieutenant Manuel Bianquetti, which resembles his own existence for the last few years after a terrible tragedy robbed him of the life he’d led. The sexual assault and murder of his eldest daughter Sol led Manuel down a vengeful path, and he gradually drifted away from the people he held closest to him, his wife and younger daughter. Estranged from his family, Manuel gets increasingly obsessed with getting to the perps, which leads to him adopting questionable extrajudicial methods. This gets him disgraced in his professional career, too, as he gets transferred from the capital city of Madrid to the port city of Cadiz. The reputation of this gruff, single-minded, unpredictable cop with a penchant for drowning his sorrows in drunkenness and also details of his sordid past have reached the new precinct too, and the majority of his colleagues aren’t too fond of him either. The only person Manuel chooses to share his thoughts with is Morgano, a world-weary officer in charge of the evidence department who empathizes with Manuel as she has a daughter of her own. The only thing that keeps Manuel going in the daily drudgery of such existence is the last voice message sent by his deceased daughter, played on a loop.
A Commonality In Destiny
Running in parallel with Manuel’s narrative is the story of Cristina, who lives in the same flat. Cristina was subjected to physical violence by her former partner, which has scarred her for life ever since. After her partner got incarcerated, a neurotic Cristina arrived in Cadiz and became a nurse, but she couldn’t get over her past trauma. Anxiously looking over her shoulders to spot some unseen stalker, checking her phone regularly for suspicious voicemails, looking through her window almost expecting to see the face of a familiar monster to be on the lookout—the memories of abuse wrecked Cristina in more ways than one. Even in a new town, she cannot consider the possibility of starting a new life; the prospect of having a new partner is both fantastical and horrifying for her. She hopelessly counts the days still due during the seven years of her abuser’s imprisonment.
The situation changes for both of these hapless souls after two events take place almost simultaneously. In the precinct, Manuel overhears a case about a 16-year-old Colombian girl named Clara Vidal who was raped and brutally murdered at the portside and notices the fact that the authorities are extremely lackadaisical in their approach. Manuel was already smarting due to the case being a dead ringer for his personal tragedy, which is aggravated by the Vidal family’s earnest request for him to handle the case, given the fact that no one at the precinct seems helpful and they already know Manuel’s efforts to bring his daughter’s killer and abuser to justice. On the other hand, Cristina starts receiving voicemails from a private number, which contains only static traffic. Terrified out of her wits, she asks the local authority for help, unsurprisingly to no avail.
Manuel starts his investigation regarding the case separately from the force’s efforts (which are nonexistent, to be honest). From the preliminary investigation, he deduces that Clara’s boyfriend, Freddy, whom the police have nabbed as a suspect, is, in fact, not guilty and that she was abducted in a black SUV on the night she was brutalized and murdered. He passes this information to Mr. Vidal, Clara’s grieving father, who informs him that a woman named Carmen had approached him recently who had survived such a tragic fate herself, and her details match with Manuel’s investigation. Manuel visits her and comes across a lead, and by forcing the person in question, he comes across the names of possible suspects, the rich and spoilt Murillo brothers Abraham and Lucas, who also happen to be drug traffickers.
On the other hand, Cristina starts getting panic attacks due to the increasing number of voicemails and calls, which use traffic noise as scare tactics. Once, on her way to her apartment, she sees a bleeding Manuel (who has been attacked by goons in the course of the investigation) lying on the stairs and aids him in recovery. A few days later, she gets a phone call from an associate of hers about her abuser getting released on parole before his due date, which increases her anxiety and fear exponentially. Cut off from any relative or friend in the new town, she has no option but to ask Manuel for help and decides to share her sordid past, entrusting him with her safety. Manuel decides to escort Cristina to her workplace during her shifts.
Manuel finds a pattern in his ongoing investigation and the fact that there are multiple victims of similar fates who were silenced by the threats of the Murillos. Manuel informs Morgano of all the case details, and Morgano feels hopeless, thinking about how perhaps this heinous crime, too, will be lost under the piles of other non-significant cases the department chooses to prioritize. Manuel confiscates the black SUV by intercepting a drug deal being carried out by one of Murillos’ associates, but he gets reprimanded by his superior, Commissioner Tejada, and gets suspended.
Manuel decides to continue the investigation anyway and reaches a nightclub to validate the identity of the brothers by questioning a victim, while the Murillos’ goons tail him at the place and attack. A bloodied Manuel manages to lay waste to them and escape but gets his mobile phone broken in the process—the last memory of his daughter he had was her last voicemail. He manages to pick up Cristina at the end of her shift, who once again treats him to normalcy. Manuel shares his tragic past with her and also explains how the destructive path of vengeance had him kill an innocent man whom he considered to be the main culprit in his daughter’s case. Once again, Manuel ends up in a life-threatening situation while investigating and barely escapes; in the process, he misses picking up Cristina, and the latter somehow returns to her apartment, almost losing her mind in panic.
‘Unfinished Affairs’ Ending Explained – Did Manuel Get The Closure He Was Seeking?
The next morning, Lucas Murillo’s carved-up, drowned body and the SUV from the port area arrive, and Manuel gets arrested on suspicion due to his past actions. After noticing some familiar evidence planted inside Murillo’s SUV, Manuel realizes that Morgano might have instigated Clara’s father to take action against himself, and he confronts her. Morgana expresses her disgust at the corrupt system that gives free rein to monsters like Murillo and has no regrets about confessing that she was the one who shared Manuel’s history with the Vidals and the fact that she informed the case details behind his back. Manuel goes to confront Mr. Vidal, who has killed Lucas as a form of avenging her daughter’s death, without knowing whether this particular crime was committed by them. However, Abraham Murillo and his right-hand man arrive to strike at the Vidals, and Manuel moves them to safety. The two hoodlums prove to be no match for Manuel, who beats them down and almost pulverizes Abraham Murillo to death till Mrs. Vidal stops him.
The next day, the Murillos’ connection with Clara’s murder is found out after the forensics manage to recover traces of her in the car. Commissioner Tejada’s connection with the criminals is also discovered when the right-hand man of Abraham gives up his name. Manuel is offered his position back in the department, which he refuses and leaves. Earlier during a call, Manuel’s wife Petri asked what was left for him to still pursue such a destructive path relentlessly, to which he answered that he sought some form of closure. By bringing Clara, Mari, Carmen, and numerous other unnamed victims’ offenders to justice, even his wretched soul can gain peace, albeit a short-lived one. Manuel calls his wife and regretfully apologizes to her for years of neglect. A teary Manuel looks over at the bay as the setting sun reflects on his face, almost symbolizing the thin silver lining in his life.
However, things do not end well for everyone, and as previously remarked, the director gives the viewers no easy escape and ends the movie as a reminder of the harrowing reality that knows no end to suffering. We see Manuel arriving at the hospital, and at her shift’s end, Cristina is happy to see a reliable face waiting to receive her. However, an attacker, presumably her former abusive partner, arrives all of a sudden and stabs her multiple times in the back. Manuel rushes to the spot to knock him out and carry Cristina inside, and she is rushed to the OT. Cristina’s worst fears come true, and whether she survives this attack or not, her trauma will never leave her either way. The movie ends on a divisive, violent note, keeping with the message the director wanted to convey. We are unsure of Cristina’s fate, and the certainty she had about getting brutalized again by her abuser—the helplessness she felt through the years and even at the end—is horrific enough to make the ending an insufferable one.