Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 10, 2011


Filed under: crime,Film,Latin America — louisproyect @ 7:15 pm

Over the years, automobile crashes have become apt symbols in a group of movies attempting to make big statements about society. Perhaps the most profound was Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend” that featured a long tracking shot of a traffic jam on a French country road that culminated in a shocking car wreck with mangled bodies strewn across the road. That pivotal scene was an introduction to the remainder of the film that depicted a France descending into barbarism.

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, there’s Paul Haggis’s “Crash”, a movie that preaches “understanding” as a way for the races to reconcile. Orchestrated over a series of fender benders, the film exhibits Hollywood liberalism at its most meretricious. Apparently, Haggis just resigned from Scientology after 35 years in protest over the cult’s opposition to gay marriage. Now that would be a plot for a movie I’d much prefer to see.

The most recent entrant into the field is Carancho, an Argentine film directed by Pablo Trapero that opens at the Angelica Film Center in NY tomorrow. I have seen Trapero’s Crane World, a powerful neorealist study of a crane operator, as well as El Bonaerense, a documentary-like feature about police corruption in Buenos Aires. Crane World is available from Netflix and I recommend it highly.

Carancho is the Spanish word for vulture and refers to the main character, an ambulance-chasing lawyer who preys on the families of the dead and those injured in car crashes. While Trapero is aspiring for social commentary in the same way as Godard and Haggis, he is also insistent on the more mundane aspects of a problem which is decimating Argentina. The film opens with words to this effect on the screen (these were taken from the press notes):

In Argentina, more than eight thousand people die every year in road accidents at a daily average of twenty-two. More than a hundred and twenty thousand are injured. Only the last decade has seen one hundred thousand deaths. The millions of pesos that every victim represents in medical and legal expenses produces an enormous market, supported by the compensations of insurance companies and the weakness of the law. Behind every tragedy, there is an industry.

We first meet the lawyer Sosa at a funeral where he is being punched and kicked by a couple of burly surviving relatives for representing himself as a friend of the deceased and a fan of the same soccer team the dead man followed religiously. Suspecting rightly that he was a shyster, the relatives ask him to name the team. After Sosa answers incorrectly, they pummel him. Lying on the ground, he keeps naming other teams—incorrectly—and receives fresh blows for his efforts.

His shady business brings him into contact eventually with a young female doctor named Luján who works the night shift in an ambulance. Without wasting any time, the two end up as passionate lovers even though she understands that he is a carancho. Her own social isolation working at nights might have something to do with this, but Sosa has a real charisma despite his tawdry background. On their first date, he bets her that if two cars go through a red light at the nearby intersection, she will have to let him kiss her. She ups the ante to four. After 6 cars ignore the red light, they kiss. In the very next scene, they are undressing each other in Luján’s bedroom.

Sosa is played by Ricardo Darín, one of Argentina’s most respected actors. He plays Sosa as a kind of tarnished Bogart-like figure. Darín was Marcos, the senior partner of younger con man in “Nine Queens”, a similar role. Middle-aged and a bit overweight, Sosa has an insouciant charm that Luján finds irresistible. She is played by Martina Gusman who has starred in other Trapero movies, including El Bonaerense, and co-founded a film production company with him in 2002. She is excellent.

In the press notes, interviewer Michael Guillén asks Trapero for his thoughts on a comment by Eduardo Galeano:

Galeano argues that there is nothing accidental about car wrecks; that, in fact, from the moment cars were manufactured and set loose on the roadways car wrecks were inevitable. He said a better word to describe a car wreck would be “a consequence”, rather than “an accident”.

If Trapero is intent on describing the consequences of the automobile on Argentine society, he seeks to it not as a documentary film-maker would. Instead, his approach is that of the film noir director for whom the crashes—always occurring at night—serve as a kind of deux ex machina that drives the plot forward, with ever-increasingly ghastly results. When Trapero decides to break with the gangsters who employ him, they threaten both his life and Luján’s. In the stunning climax, the conflict between man and man, and man and machine is resolved in chilling fashion.


  1. Louis,

    Have you seen The Housemaid (2010)? It’s a movie out of South Korea showing for a short time at IFC Center. I highly recommend it for you and your readers. It’s not the best film by any means, but it paints a great picture of the greed and disconnect that is at the heart of the filthy rich.

    Comment by The Idiot — February 11, 2011 @ 9:17 am

  2. “Carancho” is also a word often used in Spanish, particularly in Argentina, in lieu of the expletive “carajo.”

    Comment by Cecilieaux Bois de Murier — February 11, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

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