Directed by Luis Ortega
Written by Luis Ortega, Sergio Olguín and Rodolfo Palacios
Starring Lorenzo Ferro, Chino Darín, and Daniel Fanego
Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes
MPAA rating: unrated (Not for kids. There’s a little scrotum, crime and blood, you get the idea)
by Benjamin Leonard, Best Boy
“Fortune favors the bold” is a quote often used for situations that I never care about. Usually it’s in some 300 sort of a movie where it’s “a story of a man, conquering a nation” or some such horseshit. However in the past month, I’ve have seen two movies that made me think of the phrase even though they didn’t mention it themselves. The first was Bohemian Rhapsody, which was really fun but not especially good, and then there was El Angel, which was fun in many parts and was exceedingly good throughout.
Honestly, El Angel is exactly the type of movie I could hate. Its potential for glorifying violence and crime to show of how dashing your lead is exceptionally high. But it very rarely wallows in that side of the story. Instead, it’s about the titular Carlitos (Lorenzo Ferro) trying to eat up the little things he can enjoy in life before life eats him up. It opens on him, beautiful, surly and denim clad, walking to a house that he’s decided to break-in to. It’s a smash and grab, except it’s not. He hops a fence, climbs a wall, doesn’t make much of a mess. What he grabs ends up being the small trinkets (some small jewelry, some records, the sporty little motorbike instead of the big flashy car.
The point is that he takes these things to get the sense of freedom that money can afford you, not to get rich or be flashy. Carlitos’ father is a hard-working straight-laced guy who’s gotten nowhere in life, and he expects the same from his son. Carlitos wants more though. He doesn’t want to trudge through life just to sustain nor battle for every scrap to stay at the top of the pack. He wants the sun on his face and a song in his heart.
The story starts as Carlitos first sees and is intrigued by a boy at school, Ramón (Chino Darín). Carlitos tries to be friendly at first, offering Ramón a drag from his cigarette but is blown-off. So he takes a different tact, enticing him to violence, and thus the interplay between sex and violence begins, and it remains sultry to the end.
The two end up being fast friends and Ramón invites Carlitos to meet and start working with his criminal parents. Mom (Mercedes Morȧn) and dad (Daniel Fanego) do nothing to settle the fervor, rather stoking it with their own invitations. The father recognizes Carlitos’ skill and intelligence and hopes to control him in order to make their little family rich. But, of course, Carlitos is just in it for fun.
Their story has its ups and downs from there and, while always engaging, it is a slow burn. This is not the action-packed shoot-em-up that some trailers would have you believe. No. This is slow and well thought-out with lush, gorgeous costumes, sets, and cinematography (the slums are gross but homey and the villas are palatial and extravagant) and a rip-roaring soundtrack that moves effortlessly from dancey R&B to cutesy incidentals to fuzzed out 70s proto-metal that made me want to hit the road for a life of crime myself.
If you didn’t already see this at the 27th Philadelphia Film Festival, it looks like this movie is only slated for one week on a lot of screens, and here I am only just now telling you about it on Sunday of that said week. So, please, go check it out. It’ll be worth your time. As Argentina’s entry for the Oscars, there IS a good chance that this will be coming back to theaters after the nominations, but there’s no guarantee that the votes match the buzz. Don’t let this pass you by. It’s a beautifully made film.
To close, I wanted to share the final words from the director’s letter about his film:
In an American way of speaking cinema, this is the son of The Night of The Hunter, Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, Rumble Fish, Gummo, Drugstore Cowboy and many other films that have given me a sense of beauty, duty, and sacrifice. My sincere wish is to live up to this tradition.
Whoever is looking for reality or mere violence must look somewhere else.
You hit your mark, sir. Well done.