A dark and dingy Argentinean crime-noir which follows the increasingly desperate actions of an ambulance chasing lawyer called Sosa (Ricardo Darin) who, having been expelled from the bar association, is embroiled in a dangerous scam involving the victims of Argentina’s deadly road accidents. We are told that there are around 8000 deaths and 120,000 injuries every year in Argentina from road traffic accidents and this has spurned a lucrative market for “Caranchos” or ‘Vultures’ such as Sosa and ‘The Foundation’ which he works for. These vultures fleece insurance companies for thousands and keep a hefty percentage for themselves ensuring that the usually very poor victims receive only a small fraction of what they are owed.
Sosa spends a great deal of time trawling police stations and emergency rooms looking for potential clients and it’s in a hospital where he meets Lujan (Martina Gusman), a young paramedic with aspirations to be a surgeon. The two begin a blossoming romance but Lujan is unaware of the extent of Sosa’s sordid practices. As well as his lucrative ambulance-chasing activities, Sosa also encourages willing participants to join him in a con where they walk out in front of cars and then claim for compensation. It’s this scam which goes horribly wrong however and brings Sosa’s illegal practices squarely into focus for Lujan. It also forces Sosa himself to question his own conscience and decide to leave his chose career behind, much to the chagrin of his employers. As his corrupt boss becomes more determined to keep him working, Sosa and Lujan face ever increasing danger. When Sosa tries to atone for his past sins and properly help out a family involved in a tragic road accident, his crooked former employers seem determined to tighten the screw and claim their share. As the couple become more and more bloodied up and increasingly desperate to leave The Foundation behind, events build up to a hard-hitting finale.
It’s an incredibly bleak and unflinching movie the dark subject matter of which is very much matched by the dark visuals. Lujan is forced to work night shifts at her hospital, the bright Hospital lights garish and intrusive for the bedraggled hospital staff. Outside in the Buenos Aires night, Sosa stalks the dimly lit streets and occasionally pops back into his firm’s drab and rundown offices. As well as this prevailing dark tone which runs throughout, the whole movie is also engulfed by a sense of despair and desperation. While Sosa struggles to escape his past and ‘go straight’, Lujan is injecting speed in order to stay awake and does battle in an understaffed hospital with a never-ending flow of badly injured patients. It’s a grim reality for all concerned.
Corancho appears to suggest that violence is unfortunately a part of every day life for both Sosa and Lujan. Our introduction to the former even sees him getting beaten up in a gutter and later he is assaulted several times and even resorts to violence himself in one particularly hard hitting scene. Lujan meanwhile faces a daily cycle of bloodied patients and violent thugs before she too is the victim of a particularly hard to watch assault. It slowly becomes almost second nature to them both.
Both lead actors do sterling work with Darin in particular doing a grand job of portraying a reformed but guilt-ridden man. Darin was superb in the exceptional The Secret In Their Eyes and here deserves extra credit considering he spends the vast majority of the film covered in bruises and blood thanks primarily to his boss’ heavy-handed enforcer.
Sosa and Lujan are meant to be a pair of star-crossed lovers seeking to escape the hazardous cycle of violence they are surrounded by, but for me their romance just didn’t quite hit home. The two didn’t have much chemistry and their leap from flourishing romance to inseparable lovers seems to come out of nowhere. One minute she can’t stand to look at him and is appalled by his actions, then he turns up bloodied and bruised and she falls in love all over again. It just feels a little forced.
That aside though, there’s still much to enjoy in Carancho. The claustrophobic and tense atmosphere is skilfully built up and the increasingly dangerous situation with Sosa finds himself in keeps on escalating until the point where you’re not sure whether he could ever really break free. The rampant corruption and exploitation which is seemingly accepted and ignored by the authorities only adds to the sense of hopelessness which permeates through the movie.
Carancho is an engrossing thriller which does pack a real emotional punch, particularly with its shocking conclusion. The central relationship may not be a timeless screen romance, but it doesn’t distract overall from the film’s strangely captivating sense of desperation.
Carancho is out on DVD 28th May 2012.
Director: Pablo Trapero
Stars: Ricardo Darín, Martina Gusman, Carlos Weber
Runtime: 107 min
Country: Argentina, Chile, France, South Korea