16 March 2012


Doing some research into Carancho, a film I saw last week, I discovered that Carancho is a character in Bolivian folklore, who received the gift of fire from an owl. There's not a lot about this in the film itself, but I can see how you can look at its protagonist, Sosa, as Promethean, from a certain angle. But more simply, it turns out that carancho means "vulture", which links back to the film in a much more obvious way.

This Argentine entry for Best Foreign Language at last year's Oscars didn't match the 2009 success of The Secret in their Eyes, but the two films do share a leading man, Ricardo Darín. He plays Sosa, a counsellor for the Foundation, which deploys ambulance chasers to swindle plaintiffs out of their compensation settlements. Sosa desperately wants to get out of his unethical line of work, and his friendship with the idealistic Lujan, a young woman who's trying to get appointed as a doctor instead of working long hours on call, might just help him to find his way out.

Carancho opens with the sobering statistic that traffic accidents are the number one cause of death in Argentina, and the film goes on to explore the profiteers who make a fortune off of others' misfortune. It paints a bleak and distinctly unfriendly picture of Argentina, where crime is rife and morality seems to be in short supply. At the same time, it has a love story at its heart, with the unlikely relationship between Lujan the doctor and Sosa the attorney playing out against that chaotic backdrop.

Ricardo Darín is, once again, mesmerising- I find that he always looks somewhat melancholic and thoughtful, and that suits the character down to the ground. Sosa can often be unsympathetic, but Darín aptly conveys that he wishes to be better. Martina Gusman is also very watchable, although I think that the film is much more about Lujan becoming complicit with corruption that it first appears, or even acknowledges. Lujan becomes more and more frazzled throughout the film, and she's already shooting up to relax when we meet her. Once again, the film hinges on rooting for their relationship, in a setting that has little else to grasp in the way of "nice".

Director Pablo Trapero approaches the violence in the film with a certain amount of tact, rather than setting out to shock. That's what actually makes it more shocking, because most of the impact is short, sharp and methodical, rather than blunt or overly gory. One memorable scene sees Lujan treating a man who has just been involved in a bar fight. Moments later, the victim realises the guy in the next bed was his opponent, and they start Round 2 right there in the hospital, IVs attached and all. Where that scene could have been quite funny, it's singularly brutal, and that's even before the Mafia-esque organisation of attorneys begin to inflict their own cruelty.

Carancho is an unusual beast, as a drama about insurance and corruption in Argentina, that also comprises a sweet and sympathetic romance between unlikely partners, and an unpredictable brutality that always serves to advance the plot, rather than simply get a rise out of the audience. Trapero coordinates the unflinching script with some compelling and beguiling cinematography, and the Argentine nightscape looks suitably bleak. At times, it's almost shot like a documentary, which serves the hard-hitting material very well.

Carancho is still showing in selected cinemas nationwide. The film will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on May 28th 2012.
If you've seen Carancho, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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