“Tell me about yourself.”
“I don’t want to spoil things.
We’re having too good a time.”
In Pablo Trapero’s gripping,
violent, compellingly bleak film noir, Carancho, two people who probably
should never have met are cohabitating, literally licking each other’s wounds
and conspiring to make a big score – money due victims in one of Argentina’s
annual epidemic of fatal car crashes – money claimed by a very bad guy, “The
Dog,” the kind of guy who always lurks in films that take nefarious behavior to
the end of the line. Our hero, a washed up, disbarred, ambulance chasing
attorney, Sosa (Ricardo Darin) and his girlfriend, Lujan (Martina Gusman) an
overworked, drug addicted, gullible emergency room physician are basking in the
glow of the best moments in their ill-considered affair. They met as Sosa was
chasing her ambulance, their future rests perilously on a mad scheme to steal
the big Dog’s bone.
What is my fascination with films
from this beautiful if long cursed land down under? A country with myriad,
routinely misapplied natural and human resources, a nation that resembles what
ours might be if say Huey Long rather Franklin Roosevelt had guided us through
the Great Depression; a traditionally macho land – whose brilliant crime movies
resound with curses “cocksucker,” motherfucker” -- that now oddly advertises
itself as a low cost queer vacation haven.
Carancho is awash in blood
and ghoulish humor: two of the funniest moments assault Lujan as she’s tending
to men whose wounds are a byproduct of misguided male pride: an old man, blood
streaming from his noggin, attempts a sexual assault and two young dudes resume
their barroom duel in the emergency room, this last scene punctuated by
Sosa and Lujan are two legs of a
wobbly stool representing the tattered safety net for poor accident victims in Buenos
Aires. The filmmakers assert that Carancho illustrates the fate of
many of the eight thousand annual victims of the country’s ongoing auto-carnage,
noting that “Behind every tragedy, there is an industry.” The Dog is the barely
human face of that industry, the chief goon of an octopus like syndicate, The
Foundation, whose agents, or vultures, feed off the desperation of the
relatives of poor victims.
It falls to Argentine acting legend
Ricardo Darin to lend his soulful eyes and what my companion at a critic’s
screening called his enormous “beck” to the fine art of turning Sosa into both
vulture and victim of the Dog’s emergency room scams: under Argentina’s “rules
of the road,” crooked ambulance chasers siphon off a huge percentage of the
millions of pesos due underclass accident victims and their survivors.
About a decade ago Darin emerged
from the ranks of his country’s most bankable TV soap opera and sitcom actors
to carve out a whole career as the ruggedly handsome film noir face of Argentina’s
army of petty crooks and scam artists. As I wrote at the time of Fabian Bielinsky’s
nourish comedy of bad manners, Nine Queens, “Everyone in this world of
thieves is on some kind of leash, the question is just who is holding the
chain.” Adjusting his countenance as this perilous decade aged, Darin’s sexy
conman became notably less brash and cynical and started to embody an oddly
noble if delusional and decidedly doomed everyman. In his second outing for the
late Bielinsky, The Aura, Darin’s Espinoza is the epileptic taxidermist
who day dreams about pulling off the perfect crime but who when fate hands him
the key to such a heist finds himself harvesting a landscape of human corpses,
his payoff the company of a junkyard dog.
In Carancho Darin’s Sosa is
a beaten down three time loser, the big Dog’s vulture literally hauling human
remains to the Dog’s table until that horrible moment when love calls. Spying,
wooing and seducing the idealistic female doc Lujan, with her masculine
features framed by horn-rimmed glasses, Sosa imagines himself reborn with the
fevered dreams of a life beyond that of a lying parasite.
It falls to director Pablo Trapero
to convince us that Sosa and Lujan aren’t merely an accident waiting to happen,
that they aren’t the classic trapped noir creatures, like Edmund O’Brien’s dead
man walking dude in D.O.A. who begins his tale by reporting a murder to
the police. The victim: himself.
As with the best of Quentin
Tarantino walking dead palookas the most dangerous blows are the ones you
should have seen coming but didn’t. Darin’s Sosa actually appears more like a
lover when he’s bludgeoning an old buddy with a baseball bat to set up a phony
car accident victim scam that backfires into the chump’s real death.
I’ve yet to watch an Argentine film
where love triumphs – the closest is the Patagonian teen romp Glue where
the slinky Nahuel Perez Biscayart seduces his soccer buddy and tomboyish
girlfriend into a backroom kissing orgy under the influence.
As the clock ticks down on their
bid to escape with the Dog’s bone – with a scheme that could work, barring
accidents -- Sosa and Lujan discover that their strangely cursed society
doesn’t accommodate the pursuit of happiness, that its real religion is not a
desiccated Catholicism but the fatalistic injunction that at best every dog has