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.