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November 10, 2010

Starz Denver Film Festival 2010 - Carancho


Pablo Trapero - 2010
Strand Releasing

Maybe someone thought that lightning would strike twice for Argentina's entry for the foreign language film Oscar by having another film starring Ricardo Darin. It almost seems axiomatic Argentina's Oscar nominees star Darin. Carancho isn't a bad film. But among films I have seen with this estimable actor, it falls short of the more engrossing work such as Nine Queens, Son of the Bride, XXY, and winning Secret in Their Eyes.

Looking older and puffier than in previous films, Darin portrays a "carancho", a derogatory term that translates as "vulture". A more polite term might be "ambulance chaser", but these guys make their American legal brethren look like gentlemen in comparison. Taking advantage of the staggering number of accidents, primarily in the urban sections of Buenos Aires, these lawyers act on behalf of generally poorer and uninsured victims, negotiating claims that earn the firms roughly seventy-five percent, or more, of the payout. Keeping the money rolling in for themselves, these caranchos will go as far as staging accidents as way of getting some quick cash for those willing to play victim.

Darin's character of Sosa, is a lawyer who has been working for a so-called foundation for about ten years, dreaming of leaving that racket for a more respectable law practice. His reasons for working the seamier side of the law are never made clear. Sosa eventually gets involved with Lujan, a youngish doctor who works as the equivalent of an ambulance paramedic. In spite of her medical credentials, and what appears to be a perpetual shortage of doctors in Buenos Aires, Lujan is stuck taking care of emergency cases. Sosa is immediately attracted to Lujan, but their relationship takes unexpected turns when they become more professionally involved following an accident staged by Sosa.

Trapero's film is shot in a loose manner, with a hand held camera and what appears to be available light. Sometimes what is visible are extreme close ups of eyes, hands, parts of a face, with the surrounding areas out of focus. At times the actors are only partially visible on the side of the frame. One might read these kinds of visual compositions as Trapero's literally letting the viewer know how marginalized his characters are in their existence. The effect may be to say that the film is as much about Buenos Aires as it is about the lawyers, doctors, and accident victims, but that the city is the most elusive character, dominating the action, but impossible to fully grasp.

Most of the film presents a bleak view of humanity, with a conclusion that seems like the most obvious conception of karmic retribution. There is one scene that is darkly funny, with Lujan examining two men in an emergency ward. Both men are bloody and beaten, barely breathing. Hearing the voice of the second man, the first man kicks the portable stretcher, and the two men resume a brawl that apparently brought them into the emergency room in the first place. Carancho premiered at Cannes, where it has garnered some enthusiastic reviews. Also of interest is an interview done by blogging pal Michael Guillen.

(Viewed as DVD screener)

Posted by peter at November 10, 2010 08:34 AM