Carancho -- Film Review

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CANNES -- When young director Pablo Trapero shot "El Bonaerense" in 2002, he pushed the frontiers of socially realistic cinema in Argentina; with "Carancho"he returns to the same nitty-gritty terrain (the film is even shot in the same neighborhood) where police corruption is a given and survival depends on beating your rivals to a pulp before they hit on you. Inspired by the sultry smooth atmosphere of Hollywood film noir, "Carancho" spills the beans about corrupt hospitals that allow unscrupulous lawyers to make a mint on other people's calamities.

Low-key is far from Trapero's esthetic, of course, and as co-editor he injects the film with the pummeling rhythm of a heavy metal session. Punishing for some, it could be just the cup of tea for the young male demographic.

Added value comes from leading star Ricardo Darin -- whose "The Secret in their Eyes" won this year's foreign-language Oscar -- as a legal vulture who wants to get out of the business after he meets straight arrow Martina Gusman (the film's executive producer) in the role of an ER medic. It's a nice, modern twist on the flatfoot who falls for the blonde of yore, and Trapero's muscular filmmaking keeps the love story fast and fresh.

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It's the film's dark violence, however, that will either sell tickets or turn viewers away, and those who enjoyed the morbid atmosphere of David Cronenberg's "Crash" should take a look. The film opens with a beautifully edited, stop-motion sequence of a car accident and the information that 8,000 Argentines die on the road each year. They don't all have decent accident insurance, and that is where Hector Sosa (Darin) comes in. His craggy face, made even tougher wearing a crew cut, reacts to police radio reports of a crash and he speeds off in pursuit to help the survivors land their claims with their insurance companies.

The "Foundation" he works for is charitable only to themselves, appropriating the lion's share of the claims they handle. The dark, seedy office is right out of the 1940s, like the hard-nosed bruisers who run the joint. It would be interesting to count the number of times Sosa gets brutally beaten up in the film, afterwards pretending nothing happened as he wipes the blood from his face.

Complications arise when he meets Lujan (Gusman), an innocent-looking young doctor who works the night shift on ambulance duty. She brushes him off but he won't take no for an answer. Their relationship is earthy and real, grounding the violent story in believable human emotions.

Crash after crash, CPR after IV, the victims of road accidents keep pouring into the run-down hospital where Lujan works, littered with garbage and smeared with blood. She keeps herself on an even keel shooting up in the bathroom; when Sosa finds out she's a junkie, he takes it in stride. His heart of gold makes him want to help some of the accident victims, while earning a little money on the side. This leads to a conflict of interest with his employers and to a dramatically over-the-top finale that goes too far to be satisfying.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Un Certain Regard
Sales: Finecut
Production companies: Matanza Cine, Finecut, Patagonik, Ad Vitam, L90
Cast: Ricardo Darin, Martina Gusman
Director: Pablo Trapero
Screenwriter: Alejandro Fadel, Martin Mauregui, Santiago Mitre, Pablo Trapero
Producer: Pablo Trapero
Executive producer, Martina Gusman
Director of photography: Julian Apezteguia
Production designer: Mercedes Alfonsin
Costume designer: Marisa Urruti
Editor: Ezequiel Borovinsky, Pablo Trapero
No rating, 107 minutes
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