Based on a true story, Netflix’s Spanish thriller drama, Burning Body, or El cuerpo en llamas, revolves around a mysterious murder in Barcelona where a police officer’s charred body was found inside his car. While claiming to be based on real events, the series also mentions being dramatized in certain areas, and it is this second claim that proves to be more true. Spread over eight episodes of around 50 minutes each, the narrative is often intentionally disjointed, giving it a teledrama appeal. Plus, the manner in which the characters are presented also seems distant from reality, making the show a fairly average watch.
Burning Body is based on the sensational Rosa Peral case, in which two police officers were arrested as suspects in the murder of a third fellow police officer. Early in the month of May 2017, the body of Pedro Rodriguez was found inside the boot of his own car, abandoned in the desolate Foix reservoir area of Catalonia. The car had been doused in fire, and the body was burned to such a degree that the police had to go to great lengths in order to simply identify the man. When Pedro’s current partner, Rosa Peral, was questioned by the investigators, she, too, was immensely shocked and stunned by this mysterious death. Despite having plans to marry sometime later, Rosa and Pedro apparently had a huge fight, following which the man left the house on the 2nd of March and had not contacted Rosa since.
As the police looked into Pedro’s location records from his phone, there were indeed traces of him having gone around the city on the 2nd, along with text messages made to some of his friends. The last known location of the man happened to be in the neighborhood of a certain Javier Guerrero. Javier, also a police officer, was the ex-husband of Rosa, and the woman instantly claimed that it must have been Javier who killed Pedro since the ex-husband was quite jealous of her current partner. In fact, there was a lot of bad blood between Rosa and Javier since the two had been embroiled in a legal fight over the custody of their daughter, Sofia. However, once the investigation began, it was Rosa and a supposed lover of hers, Albert Lopez, who were arrested as prime suspects for the murder.
Burning Body keeps the basic elements of it as true to reality as possible, starting with the decision to not change any of the individuals’ names. However, the show then goes on to add coats of fictional paint to these individuals, or the characters who are based on them, to the extent that the dramatic fiction outweighs the factual. It is most obviously Rosa Peral who is the first glaring target of this dramatization, as she is made to seem like a truly evil person. The woman’s string of different lovers, most of whom were having illicit affairs with her, became the focus of a number of the episodes. Even though the show does not directly mention this for once, there is clearly a sense of persecution that Rosa’s character is expected to face because of her personal choices. Some of the characters in relevant situations also lash out against Rosa, calling her the most abusive names and questioning her morality at the drop of a hat. In fact, the opening title sequence of the show makes it very clear about how it intends to project Rosa Peral—as a typical femme fatale who is also a masterful seductress, bringing men under her control.
Rosa being perceived like this seemed to happen all over the media and in society in real life as well, after she was first picked up by the police as a suspect. Her personal life soon became the subject of large-scale discussions and debates in society, as news regarding her lovers was presented in the most sensationalized way possible. The shaming and humiliation she had to face does not, of course, counter the ultimate findings of the criminal case in any way, but the series could have done more in discussing these elements. In my personal opinion, Burning Body misses out on the opportunity to raise serious questions about the effect of public perception on court cases, or at least the need to maintain sensitivity to some degree while dealing with certain cases. The reality was indeed very grim, since such persecution actually happened in real life. But since the show was already a work of fiction, more promising things could have been done with it. Instead, the Netflix series presents only a heavily dramatized version of the characters, the plot, and the ultimate result of the whole matter.
While watching Burning Body, which is a fictional retelling of actual crime events, I could not help but recall HBO Max’s 2022 series, The Staircase, which followed a similar intention and also had similar styles to some degree. While that show, covering the story of Michael Peterson, did not necessarily have too much new information about the case, it successfully brought out the mesh of problems and layers of ambiguity that existed in the matter. There is far less ambiguity in the Rosa Peral case, and so the Netflix series could have focused more on the level of thoughts or ideas than just mere action. If one is to simply watch the series to follow the case, then the Rosa Peral Tapes would be a better watch. Netflix has also launched this documentary film at the same time as the Burning Body series, providing both a fact-based and a fictional offering for the same criminal case.
The filmmaking style in Burning Body is adequate and mediocre, with no outstanding visual moments as such. The music also adds to the dramatic touch, making it evident that it intends to maintain this style. The acting performances are also good enough, with Ursula Corbero, the Money Heist star, doing most of the heavy lifting. Although Burning Body could have been so much more, the series does make for a fairly entertaining watch, and it can be given a watch, mostly for its plot.