Money Heist (Spanish: La Casa de Papel – The House of Paper) on Netflix, two series confusing each split into two parts, has to be one of the first shows of the action genre whose sexuality is so bad it actually lets the entire endeavour down.
Not since the film Crank with Jason Statham — where the hero, after being injected with some adrenaline-sapping drug, grabs the nearest woman and violently assaults her in public to stay alive — will viewers have seen gender politics quite this disturbing, in that they are meant to also be cheering the heroes on.
You have to say the Money Heist is in a good show, because it is – sadly is an excellent show, for the genre. If you enjoy films like Heat and LA Takedown, Hell or High Water and The Place Beyond the Pines you will absolutely love Money Heist.
Beautifully shot with wonderful cinematography it has one of those really memorable credits sequences which shows eponymous ‘paper house’ used by the robbers to plan the heist — which takes place not in a bank but in National Mint no less – i.e. where all money is printed in Spain.
Some of the characters are two dimensional but often fairly loveable – especially the father-son couple who have a really touchingly-acted backstory with the father turning to that clichéd “ethical life of crime” (rob banks – but don’t sell weed!) to provide for his only child Denver (Jaime Lorente) in the absence of a drug-addicted mother, somehow trying to keep his son from following in his footsteps whilst at the same time inviting him to take part in the biggest heist not only in the history of Spain but the history of the entire world – equipped not only with M60 assault rifles but a Browning heavy machine gun.
But even the most blameless of the cast of robbers still participate in something that really should shock any viewer completely accustomed to mainstream action movie clichés – certainly Denver does.
He “falls in love” with one of the hostages held at gun point – that is, one the 60 or so terrified people who are trapped inside the National Mint when the robbers storm in – proceeds to tell her to keep the baby she was planning on aborting (Catholicism eat your heart out) and ends up having sex with her several times in a locked bank vault despite the fact she has been shot in the leg – by him no less.
In some ways this relationship is one of the more acceptable because they “genuinely” fall in love, whereas the narrator and star of the show Tokio (Úrsula Corberó) gropes a 15 year old prisoners crotch as a sort of threat for looking at her boyfriend – and another captive who “consents” to sex with a robber admits to another hostage, when she thinks she is in private, that she is being raped. This assault is depicted in some detail and it is clear that she is not enjoying the experience.
It would be dishonest to suggest that this is the only thing you take away from the programme. The show is not about the ethics of relationships during hostage situations or the position of women in Spanish culture.
It’s an action-packed heist flick that avoids a lot of the clichés — like no one ever getting hit by gunfire despite hundreds of people firing — people do get shot, both police and robbers, and there is some tension as to how it will all end.
But nevertheless it is set in Spain, written and acted by Spaniards and, via Netflix syndication, has become an international phenomenon meaning that represents Spain in the same way that black metal has represented Norway since 1993.
There is, to my knowledge, nothing else marketed to an English-speaking audience available on NetFlix that originated in Spain. It is the nation’s primary cultural export.
So it is impossible to watch this and not ask yourself: just what is actually wrong with the regions’ gender politics? Why are they so bad at this? After all, it was not written in a vacuum.
One year prior to the release of Money Heist, in July 2016, five men from took an 18-year-old into the lobby of a building where they sexually penetrated her nine times and left her lying there, having stolen her mobile so she could not call for help. Afterwards they bragged about it on their ‘wolfpack’ Whatsapp group, posting photos and videos of the assault.
Despite these videos, the courts verdict stated that “rape had not taken place” – only “sexual abuse,” a lesser offence – as she had adopted “an attitude of submission and subjugation.” One judge even claimed the events had occurred in a “general atmosphere of fun and revelry” as it took place during that great Spanish cultural institution Pamplona’s San Fermín bull-running festival.
The explosion of protest eventually lead to the 5-million strong women’s strike in 2018, sparking a global movement which has particular resonance in places like Turkey and India which have seen similar cases — and produce equally terrible depictions of “love” on screen.
I don’t want to end this review like some outraged Trotskyist writing in a student newspaper: Money Heist is an highly watchable show that really picks up in the last few episodes. But as one of the main “hero” robbers, drags his captive rape victim back to take a final suicidal stand with him, and we are not expected to be disgusted but see this as a heroic finale in the arms of his unrequited love, something has to be said.
PS, if you find yourself asking why you recognise Tokio, the lead role and narrator, she is dressed exactly like Natalie Portman in the 1994 film Leon, right down to the sexy choker and identical haircut. The film Leon is about a 12– year old falling in love with a man in his 50s. Portman was 13 then and the film was directed by a confirmed nonce: Luc Besson.
Here rests the prosecution.