Monday, April 11, 2011

Crime films from Argentina

Grading stacks of student papers has got me behind on my reading. I glance with yearning now and then to my TBR shelf. And I sneak in a few chapters of a book I'd much rather be giving full time to - Richard Wheeler's Snowbound, which just won the Spur Award for Short Novel.

So for something of a change today, I'm going way south of the border to Argentina for capsule reviews of some crime films I've seen. I know that many readers here like crime fiction even more than westerns, so as a public service I offer the following for your consideration.

A Red Bear (2002). In this raw and intense film from director Adrián Caetano, Julio Chávez gives a gripping performance as an ex-con, out of prison on parole. His ex-wife wants nothing to do with him and has taken up with another man. Broke and after some money owed to him, he falls in with a bunch of crooks from his former life. Meanwhile, he tries hard to reconnect to a daughter who was only one year old when he got sent up.

Keeping a tight lid on a volcano of rage, he rarely betrays what he's thinking or feeling. Intent on doing the right thing for his daughter, his choices are unexpected and surprising. The end when it comes is a violent act of vengeance that's had at least one reviewer call this film an "urban western."

Nine Queens (2000). Directed by Fabián Bielinsky, this film begins as two con artists meet in a convenience store. The script is nicely complex, the characters are cleverly duplicitous, and the plot - compressed into 24 hours - is full of twists, turns, and red herrings. Part of the unpredictability is not being able to gauge the level of potential menace in the story. At almost any point there's the possibility that all could go terribly wrong.

A kind of odd-couple buddy film, its pairing of Gastón Pauls and Ricardo Darín is continually fascinating as the high-stakes alliance between them keeps evolving. 

The Aura (2005). This film, the second by director Fabián Bielinsky, is an off-beat heist movie that's focused on the mental and emotional state of the lead character, played by Ricardo Darín. Withdrawn and hyper vigilant, he's a detail-obsessed taxidermist who goes deer hunting in the woods and shoots a man instead.

Thus begins an escapade full of deceit, danger, and increasingly high stakes, all complicated by the main character's epileptic condition that produces seizures at inopportune moments. In one brilliant scene, we stand across the street watching as an elaborate robbery takes place. This was the last film by Bielinsky, who died in 2006.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009). Ricardo Darín appears again in this film directed by Juan José Campanella. A retired police investigator attempts to solve a 25-year-old rape-murder case and crosses paths with a woman he once loved.

She is now a judge, who joins him in an attempt to uncover what promises to be long-buried secrets that date back to the oppressive military dictatorship of the 1970s. Won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, 2009.

Burnt Money (2000). Then for a real walk on the wild side there's Marcelo Piñeyro's film based on a bungled bank robbery in 1965 and a two-month manhunt. The gang of robbers is not your usual movie crooks. These guys are way off center as they flee the country to hang out in Uruguay until the heat is off back in Buenos Aires.

Things go from bad to worse as they fill their time with drugs and prostitutes. Two of the men are lovers. This heated mix produces a good deal of steam, and when the federales finally close in, it's a blood bath the likes of which may have you reaching for the remote. Definitely one you need to be in the right mood for. Crime not only doesn't pay. It gets really weird.

Look for them all at netflix.

Coming up: Richard Wheeler, Snowbound


  1. Thanks, Ron. My wife and I are always searching for non-Hollywood films.

  2. The only one of these I've seen is The Secret in Their Eyes, and it was fantastic. I've just added all of these to my queue.

    We've seen some great Korean films this year too. More and more, a lot of the best, non-mindless fun movies are coming from other countries.

  3. Interesting list--I'm not up on Argentina films

  4. Loved NINE QUEENS and SECRET. THE US version of NINE QUEENS couldn't hold a candle to the original.

  5. David, I'll post some more soon.

    Chris, the last Korean film I saw was MOTHER, which was a good one.

    Sage, Argentina has produced a lot of films in the past decade or so. Very active industry.

    Patti, I agree with you about the US version of NINE QUEENS. I didn't mention it because it's not worth mentioning.