Stream It Or Skip It?

Netflix’s fixation on true crime never ceases – case in point, Rosa Peral’s Tapes, a Spanish documentary that revisits a murder committed in Barcelona in 2017, and the controversial trial that followed. The film debuts concurrently with a fictional adaptation of the same story, a six-episode series dubbed Burning Body, also on Netflix, the streamer essentially asserting that this somewhat sordid case is worthy of a veritable deluge of content. Key to this doc is the participation of Peral herself, who granted her first interview since being convicted of the crime in 2020, conducted while she’s in prison. Now let’s see if her side of the story makes for a must-see doc.   

The Gist: Peral doesn’t mince words: she calls her trial a “lynching,” and seems to relish the idea that this documentary will “let (her)self be known” to everyone. She speaks via video chat from prison, where she was sentenced to 25 years for the murder of her lover Pedro Rodriguez. Prosecutors alleged that she and her other lover, Albert Lopez, conspired to kill Rodriguez, drugging and killing him, stuffing his body in a car trunk before dousing it with gasoline and torching the evidence. During the trial, Lopez and Peral each accused the other of being the key perpetrator; prosecutors pointed at both. 

An interesting wrinkle? Peral and Rodriguez were partners on the Guardia Urbana police force. That contributed to the media soap opera that surrounded the case; cut to numerous TV-news clips that range from basic reporting to relatively outrageous gossip-mongering that could be identified as “journalism” in only the loosest, most generous definition of the term. One of those journalists says he doesn’t know if Peral is guilty or not, but he’s certain that her trial wasn’t fair; others openly admit that their coverage of and commentary on the trial was ethically questionable. 

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Why? Well, the prosecution had no hard evidence to convict Peral, so they attacked her character, painting her as a ruthless schemer who slept around; one of the prosecuting attorneys accuses her of having an “anti-monogamous pathology,” and the film cuts together a montage of trial witnesses being asked flat-out if they’ve ever slept with Peral. Prosecutors also used her cell phone message and call logs to piece together a collection of assumptions into a theory that she and Lopez premeditated the murder. It’s bizarre stuff, absolutely worthy of deeper examination, and maybe even a takedown in documentary form.

Photo: Netflix

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Netflix routinely churns out true crime docs alongside fictional dramatizations – see also Capturing the Killer Nurse and The Good Nurse, or Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.

Performance Worth Watching: Journalist Carlos Quilez comes clean and says some of the stories his publication wrote about Peral were, in his own words, “shameful.”

Memorable Dialogue: Quilez sums up the exploitative media frenzy present in this love-triangle murder case: “All the juicy ingredients were there for us to dive right in.”

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Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: Too bad this takedown is a borderline-feeble attempt to tackle a thorny and contentious story. It likely helps to have existing knowledge of this strange case before firing up Rosa Peral’s Tapes. The film is weirdly restless and nonlinear, chopping up the timeline of events into a jumble and expecting us to piece it together into something coherent – it keeps hopping between the events of 2017, 2020 and the present, doubling back and jumping forward, and maybe it works if you lean in real close and stare very intently at the screen and take notes, but isn’t the point of most true crime documentaries to seek clarity among chaotic occurrences? I finished watching the film without a solid sense of what exactly happened on the tragic night of May 1, 2017, which tells me that it may function better for familiars, as an addendum to previously established reporting.

Yet it’s fascinating to hear Peral state her case; for someone who claims to be wrongfully imprisoned, she presents herself as confident in her version of the truth, and is rarely self-righteous or purposely stirring outrage. She seems more credible than the prosecuting attorneys, who come off arrogant and a tad defensive, and the journalists who look back on their lurid reports and commentary with regret or unapologetic shrugging. These voices bring out some of the story’s rich subtext, which touches on misogyny and sexism, sensationalism and systemic flaws in the police force and justice system – the implication being, a man in Peral’s situation almost certainly would have been treated differently in court and in the headlines. But the documentary’s pointlessly complicated structure distracts from its more salient points; e.g., Peral’s defense attorney speaks on how the prosecution conflates committing a sin with committing a crime, an idea that gets lost in the curlicues of the narrative. Peral seems to have substantive points to make, but this unfocused film makes sure they never hit as hard as they should.  

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Our Call: SKIP IT. Rosa Peral’s Tapes is a fascinating story, but a frustrating watch – too frustrating.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


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