Tag Archives: Argentinian films

They Don’t Like Me, They Really Don’t Like Me

Official Competition

by George Wolf

Who’s more full of it: The cinema snob who dismisses whatever’s popular, or the escapist fan wary of any whiff of highbrow? Awards shows, or those who protest them too much? Film festival agenda twisters, or film festival attention whores?

Official Competition is here to nominate them all. Co-directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat (both also co-write with Andrés Duprat) come armed with plenty of knives, and their mischievous and wonderfully witty satire has them out for pretty much everyone involved in movie making.

When an 80 year-old millionaire (José Luis Gómez) decides his legacy should involve producing the film version of a Nobel prize-winning novel, critic’s darling Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz) gets the call to direct. But Lola insists on adapting “La Rivalidad” with a unique vision, one that starts with casting polar opposites in the lead roles.

Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) is the worldwide box office star, while Iván Torres (Oscar Martinez) is the legendary thespian. They will play warring brothers, while their own philosophical clashes grow more volatile – and more dryly hilarious – by the day.

And don’t bother looking to Lola for cool-headed problem-solving. She’d rather provoke the tension with a variety of creative exercises – such as wrapping her two stars in restraints and threatening to destroy their most prized awards right in front of their panic-stricken faces.

Subtle it ain’t, but funny it is.

And even when a joke or two lingers a beat past its expiration, this sublime trio of actors makes nearly every frenzied interaction a joy to behold.

Is Lola a motivational genius or a complete fraud? Does Félix have the chops to go toe-to-toe with the prestigious Iván? And does Iván secretly admire Félix’s success? Cruz, Banderas and Martinez are clearly having as much fun acting it out as we are trying to sort it out.

And like much of the best satire, Official Competition is talking about one thing, but saying something else. Its barbs aimed at the movie business may be silly, acerbic and insightful, but none can hide the respect this film has for the entirely mad nature of the creative process.

Call it a love letter, with a completely entertaining ‘smidge of hate.

Devil in Disguise

El Angel

by Hope Madden

Everyone loves a good bad guy. Why is that?

That’s a question that drives Luis Orgeta’s El Angel, a fantastically stylish period piece and provocative bit of storytelling that mythologizes Argentina’s most notorious serial killer.

Lorenzo Ferro is Carlito, mischievous imp and beautiful youth. In his acting debut, Ferro mesmerizes—appropriately enough. The sleepy charisma of the performance, paired with Ortega’s beguiling direction, seduces you.

Ortega saturates every frame with color, pattern and song, creating a sensual atmosphere that mirrors the storytelling. Meanwhile, Ferro captures a fearlessness that comes from the singular desire to experience each moment as it happens with no regard for what comes after, an alluring quality for both the audience and the other players in Carlito’s world.

While the newcomer is the clear center of gravity in this film, each supporting turn is stronger than the last. Together the actors populate this charmingly unseemly world with dimensional, intriguing misfits.

Chino Darín has the beefiest role as Carlito’s best friend, partner in crime and the object of his longing. That’s a theme—longing—Ortega plays with to unsettling results. There is a sexuality to everything Carlito does, and the relationship between the two friends remains tantalizingly unarticulated.

The release the audience gets instead is in the violence of the crimes.

The way Ortega emphasizes small, curious moments and deemphasizes the brutality without looking away from it is a true feat. The film—and, indeed, the life of Carlos Robledo Puch, the murderer in question—holds a great deal of violence. Truth is, the film may not contain enough.

Ortega’s interest involves the seductive quality of the bad guy. To get at this, though, he whitewashes Puch’s crimes. Besides being a murderer and a bit of an eccentric, Puch was a rapist and kidnapper who once shot at a sleeping infant. The omissions change the film from one that explores and mirrors the seductive quality of the villain to one that manipulates true life to fit a tidier vision.

Still, the sheer off-kilter spectacle that finds its focus in small, weird moments is too great to dismiss. Like the character it creates, El Angel’s allure is too strong to resist.