A South American thriller drenched in noir-ish lore: Carancho review

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Carancho: from the outset Luján and Sosa Martina's (Gusman and Ricardo Darin) relationship is imbued with a sense of inescapable doom

South American cinema is typically loud and in your face, and it has a vibrancy that other cinemas can only dream of. It’s also a cinema with few pretensions, something that would greatly benefit French cinema – zing! But Argentine, Pablo Trapero, is just as renowned (if not more so), for his drama’s subtleties and naturalistic camera work – don’t believe me, just watch Born and Bred/Nacido y criado.

So, the Argentinian director’s newest film Carancho walks an interesting line, because it’s clearly a film which understands the importance of a transnational cinema. It is a film, which unlike the majority of Trapero’s filmography is eager to find an audience – and an English speaking one at that. An idea reinforced by the film’s most notable affiliation, which is markedly American – a tale drenched in noir-ish lore.

Carancho begins with statistics, not the most exciting way to start a film, but they barely linger on screen long enough for you to catch anything but a mere glimpse. Something about road accidents and insurance claims; apparently there are 8,000 deaths and over a 120,000 people injured on Argentinian roads every year. Then the film kicks in (literally) with still images of roadside accidents and victims and from here on this claustrophobic thriller does not let up.

The backbone of Carancho’s narrative concerns a corrupt industry, which has infiltrated all walks of society, one founded upon insurance payouts and legal loopholes. If you’re in an incident (which wasn’t your fault), chances are you’ll be visited by a ‘councillor’, and these are the films titular Caranchos – meaning vulture[s]. This band of deceitful lawyers, prey upon the ignorance and upset of those recently injured or bereaved. They manipulate their victims, cooing them into allowing these ‘councillors’ to oversee and control their insurance claims, which culminates with the injured/bereaved parties being conned out of a huge chunk of their compensation. And while it’s clear that our protagonist, Sosa (Ricardo Darin), doesn’t enjoy his job, he’s certainly very good at gaining the trust of his clients (and therefore their money).

Sosa also carries out other insurance scams, which involves the desperate purposefully walking-out in front of speeding cars, so they can claim compensation. One horrific sequence involves Sosa breaking a client’s leg with a sledge hammer. Even the paramedics are ‘dirty’ in this world, arriving almost instantly in exchange for a piece of the compensation, naturally. And the police are no better, choosing to look the other way.

But one evening when out on the hunt – or is it another of Sosa’s scams in-play? – he meets a new paramedic, Luján (Martina Gusman), who is unaware of this complicit ‘deal’ between the caranchos and the ambulance service, and shortly after, their tale of doomed romance begins.

From the outset their relationship is imbued with a sense of inescapable doom. As the two begin to bond, so does Sosa become more and more disillusioned with world in which he works. Sosa is the perfect, contemporary noir protagonist, what with his constant beatings, the suffering he inflicts, along with his gambling debts and bitter cynicism – he personifies the noir protagonist, but in a very contemporary fashion.

However, if Sosa is our noir hero then Luján – despite her initial innocence – is revealed to be rather damaged herself. And that’s the key in Trapero’s noir-esque tale, everybody is ‘dirty’ and everybody is tainted by the city’s corruption (to some extent). Luján has a drug problem, whenever life gets too hard – which unsurprisingly seems to increase once she meets Sosa – sees her injecting (presumably) Morphine, into her foot, and with greater frequency as the film continues. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any moments of tenderness between the two, but the more Trapero reveals about our ‘lovebirds’, the more obvious the path that is laid before our hapless duo.

Long gone are the glory days of Latin American cinema, when it was being trumpeted upon high, with films like City of God/Cidade de DeusAmores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También. However, like this film’s protagonists, it is a cinema which refuses to give up.

Carancho is not only Trapero’s most obviously transnational film to date, but also – I suspect – his best film, displaying a cinematography which has been unrivalled so far this year. Watching Carancho, is like being punched and kicked in the head, and enjoying it – it’s a wholly masochistic affair. It’s a Saturday night assault, but a devastatingly enjoyable one.