A brilliant piece of refreshing storytelling from the Argentinian director Luis Ortega, “El Angel” charms and seduces in the most unexpected ways and moments.
Carlitos (debuting Lorenzo Ferro) is a charming teenager, who enjoys… breaking the law. One day, Carlos meets Ramon (Chino Darin) – a peer from school. Ramon decides to recruit the baby-faced friend to the family’s crime band. Over the time, Carlitos becomes more perkish with each job and – most importantly – more violent.
“El Angel” is based on a true story of Carlos Robledo Puch, a notorious criminal, who lived in Buenos Aires in the late 70s. At the moment of his incarceration, Puch was accused of 11 homicides, almost two dozen of robberies, and an alleged rape.
Frankly, Luis Ortega – the director and screenwriter of “El Angel” – doesn’t prompt the audience to believe that his film is based on a true story. In fact, he avoids the “based on facts” categorization throughout the entire screening. You suspect it’s a real-life case, but you never actually learn it – at least not from Ortega.
Don’t get confused – its’ not a whim, because there’s a particular reason for that. Ortega changes some facts concerning Carlos’ life – like adding the unclear sexuality orientation of Puch – in order to imbue “El Angel” with a peculiar vibe of magical realism.
Why magical realism? Although there isn’t any superficial dimension, any dreamed place outside of Buenos Aires in the film, the buoyant tone causes it to feel almost unreal.
In one of the most shocking moments of “El Angel”, Carlitos and Ramon attempt to rob an old man, who happens to be home at the time of their sneaky arrival. Carlitos shoots the unexpected guest just above heart, and the elderly, wounded man begins to falter in the overwhelmingly spacious villa. The two boys follow him (so does the camera), like two predators patiently observing a dying animal.
That one sequence tells a lot about Carlitos’ perception of Buenos Aires. It’s a beautiful, lively place, where death comes by surprise and is swiftly forgotten. It doesn’t touch him on any emotional level. He brakes into people’s houses, robs and does whatever pops into his mind. If he wants to flirt with a girl and take her to a romantic weekend getaway, he does that. Like a regular boy. There isn’t any rule that would be an unbreakable wall for Carlitos. But there is also routine that seems unbelievable, ill-fitting for a being so deranged.
This is also why “El Angel” is not a typical biopic movie, connecting dots and presenting facts. We’re not supposed to see the rise of a monster – we are here to witness it boasting and blossoming.
“El Angel” benefits greatly from its charismatic protagonist. Lorenzo Ferro’s role as Carlitos is a huge boost for Ortega’s credibility and direction. The debuting actor is fearless, strongly reminiscent of Alex from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Clockwork Orange”. Just like the protagonist of Anthony Burgess’ novel, Carlos’ empty inside, depraved of empathy and any basic human instincts. Furthermore, he enjoys violence, and seems inhumanly drawn into it.
Carlitos is both fascinating and terrifying – charming like a beautiful flower and venomous like its poisonous juices.
Interestingly, Ortega never attempts to neither understand his protagonist, nor give any critical comment about him. On the contrary, the director invites the audience to jump on the crime-filled train with the havoc-spraying Carlitos, relax and enjoy the ride. And it’s hard not to – the lively soundtrack by Moondog, the vivid cinematography and magnificent costume design all make up for a fantastic entertainment.
However, it’s that visual disguise that’s the most troubling in “El Angel” (and what heavily influenced my rating too). I have left the cinema with a light heart, but only after a while have I realised that this was a true story – and that hit me. It’s easy to get lost in this fairy tale, almost oneiric atmosphere that Ortega and Ferro conjure with beaming confidence. But at the end of the day, it’s a film about a man accused of multiple homicides, robberies and a rape. And that becomes more terrifying precisely due to the way it’s told – frivolously and with passion.
Is “El Angel” a good movie then?
Recently, cinema has turned to digging into the dirt of sociopaths and psycho killers in the way it did not before. Films like “My Friend Dahmer”, “Clovehitch Killer”, “El Clan” or “El Angel”, examine their protagonists instead of condemning them.
Is it dangerous? Probably yes. But it’s a thrilling experience that you don’t want to miss.
El Angel (2018)
Dir. Luis Ortega
Hate Grade: 2/10