One of the things I like about the AFI Fest is that I know I’ll get a fix of Argentine cinema which, for my money, bears the rare distinction of producing the best films in the world right now, in both mainstream and independent spheres. The international resurgence about ten years ago (with Nine Queens et al) resulted in a healthy state-funded production system, which in turn spawned a reactive and fertile counter-cinema (centred round Mario Llinás). Both are thriving. This year’s offering, Carancho, is one of the former, and it plays at the Mann’s Chinese 6 theater on Monday 8 at 9.30. For free!
Carancho means “vulture” and like last year’s The Secret In Their Eyes is a slick, well-made and exciting drama/thriller with an emotional thrust, dealt with in a thoughtful and adult fashion: that is to say, exactly what a popular movie should be. Ricardo Darin is a mainstay of this cinema (starring in each of the three titles aforementioned), effortlessly rumpled, effortlessly ambiguous and effortlessly charismatic. Here he’s an ambulance-chaser with a shady outfit that won’t let him go; he wants to straighten out as much for himself as for his handsome, somewhat surly, young doctor girlfriend, co-producer Martina Gusman, fine and understated, who turns out to be less held-together than she seems.
Director Pablo Trapero conjures a spot-on grubby night-time world as Darin hustles his way around crash sites, morgues and hospitals, and he has a fine way with a chaotic action sequence. The film opens with an effectively sustained bang and closes with a double bang, preceded by some nice old-fashioned tension. He’s rather heavy on the close-up and jiggly handheld, but that’s just part of the lexicon these days; elsewhere he gives the actors plenty of scope to play well with one another, in long, often locked-down takes and consistently well-composed two-shots. There’s nothing frightfully profound here – the state of healthcare is briefly bemoaned and there’s some tension between whether Darin is a vulture or can actually help the poor and uninsured who are his clients – but these are efficiently dispensed-with serious-theme-as-backdrop elements. Primarily the film tells of two people near the bottom of the barrel, trying to claw their way up and doing it together, and fitted out in a punchy and efficient urban action style, it works perfectly well.