Here’s a screwball pairing you probably never imagined: ambulance chaser meets ambulance driver. He’s an older, weary looking type who lost his license and now works for a firm that rips off accident victims. She’s a young, pretty but numb-looking type who works as a paramedic to supplement her income as a doctor and buoy her burgeoning drug habit. These two inhabit a contemporary Buenos Aires where corruption surrounding insurance companies has reached an appalling low and crack-ups are staged. It’s a grimy labyrinth of a city and these two lonely, grime-covered people are desperate to survive it with some splinter of integrity left intact. He gets the shit kicked out of him more than once. She has to deal with patients who wake up on gurneys in the ER and start beating the shit out of each other. Both look like they could really use some sleep. They’re not going to get much. Carancho, the latest film from Pablo Trapero, is very much a neo-noir.
Sosa, the sleazy lawyer (“carancho” is Spanish for vulture), is played by Ricardo Darín, rumpled star of such globally popular Argentine pictures as The Secret in Their Eyes, The Aura, Nine Queens and The Son of the Bride. Luján, the junky doctor with the somnambulistic bedside manner, is played by Martina Gusman, Trapero’s wife and star of his previous films Lion’s Den and Born and Bred. Both give engrossingly detailed performances, highlighted in Carancho’s early scenes, which are composed almost exclusively of unnervingly tight close-ups (the first wide turns up somewhere after the eight-minute mark). Trapero puts the study back in character study. At times his attention to nuance comes at the expense of the bigger picture—tone is masterfully invoked but momentum becomes an issue. I confess that this is the first I’ve seen of Trapero’s work since Crane World, his knockout 1999 feature debut, and one of my favourite films of the last fifteen years or so. Oddly enough, as different as the slick, formalist, genre-friendly Carancho is from the episodic, shaggy, very funny, black and white Crane World, they share an enormously appealing emphasis on work, on how people go about their daily business. Trapero is clearly a filmmaker deserving of more attention—including mine!