Pablo Trapero’s gutsy thriller is bruising, moving and utterly compelling.
Two years. It’s been two years since Pablo Trapero’s gutsy thriller debuted at Cannes, shaking up the Croisette with its swaggering South American menace. Quite why it’s taken this long to secure UK distribution is anybody’s guess, but now that it’s here, it’s one to savour.
It starts with a beating. Hector Sosa (Ricardo Darín) is a ‘carancho’, a compensation lawyer preying on the epidemic of traffic deaths decimating Argentina’s young population. They call them ‘vultures’, these sallow- skinned men who haunt hospital emergency wards in the dead of night, but they’re more like vampires: cadaverous, light-starved and hungry for blood.
It’s at one of these hospitals that Sosa meets Luján (Martina Gusman), a drug-addict and paramedic who finds herself drawn, somewhat reluctantly, to his grizzled charms. It’s a fateful attraction. As Luján is pulled inexorably into this shadowy world of fraudulent claims, corrupt cops and human misery, it becomes clear that these characters are every bit as trapped as the inmates in Trapero’s prison drama, Leonera.
There’s something of Scorsese in the director’s ballsy handling of the camera, his meticulous storytelling and his ability to conjure the grim details of lives lived in the margins of the law.
As Sosa’s relationship with Luján grows, so does his disillusionment with The Foundation – the corrupt network of lawyers and cops that runs Buenos Aires’ compensation rackets.
But Carancho doesn’t hurtle helter-skelter to its denouement. It moves slowly, deliberately, layering one desperate decision on the next – tautening, tightening, tensioning until something has to give.
Trapero also shares Scorsese’s eye for violence. Used sparingly, he makes it count – from a wince-inducing sledgehammer leg-break, to a bravura hit-and-run sequence filmed from inside a car (just one of a number of technically flawless single-take shots that scream ‘master at work’).
But it’s not just the overt violence that makes an impression. In its depiction of masculine aggression displaced into a high-pressure, low-morals business environment, Carancho also calls to mind David Mamet’s seminal Glengarry Glen Ross.
Like that film, the performances here are exceptional. Gusman (staggeringly underused on the world stage) once again disappears into her role. But it’s Darin – ramshackle, authentically frayed, like a prizefighter past his prime – who effortlessly conveys the desperation, fear and rage of a man pushed beyond endurance.
They stumble together through the night, in a city of despair where even the strong are weak, exploited and sick down to the root of their souls. Trapero catalogues it all without mercy, without averting his gaze from the myriad injustices and abuses of power. Darkness descends long before the film fades to black.
“Esta bien?” Sosa asks Luján. “Esta bien?” Over and over. Like a mantra. “Are you okay?” “Estoy bien,” she replies. “I’m okay.” But she’s not. Neither of them are, and they know it.
Pablo Trapero is one of the most promising voices in world cinema.
Bruising, moving and utterly compelling.
Two years to get a release? Sort it out, people.