Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Luis Ortega
Screenwriters: Luis Ortega, Rodolfo Palacios, Sergio Olguín
Cast: Lorenzo Ferro, Chino Darín, Mercedes Moran, Cecilia Roth, Daniel Fanego, Luis Gnecco
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 10/30/18
Opens: November 9, 2018
After the murder of eleven synagogue congregants on 10/27/18 by Robert Bowers, some the grieving family contemplated his picture. One fellow said, “He doesn’t look like the face of evil.” Whether from comic books or movies or videogames, many of us think that killers look the part: smirking with scarred faces or showing Hitler-type mustaches, bulging eyes, maybe bad teeth and comb-over hair lines. The reality is that criminals are likely to look like any of us: riding the subways, sitting before computers, relaxing in an easy chair. The evil that men do lives after them, as Marc Antony said in “Julius Caesar,” but there is like to be no reflection on their faces. Such is the case in spades when we consider Carlos Robledo Puch (Lorenzo Ferro), known to friends and family as Carlitos, because the title figure, the angel, looks like what we conceive to be the face of pure innocence. Though in real life he killed eleven people and committed robbery forty-two times, this seventeen-year-old is hardly the typical angel—except perhaps the fallen angel known as Satan. You will not find horns growing on Carlito’s head and if he has a tail he hides it well. What’s more, instead of a pitchfork—which we’d have hoped he’d use—he has a collection of guns, any number of which he used to carry out his killing, sometimes holding the firearms in both hands as though a figure out of the Old West.
This story based on the true events in the life of Puch—who, having served over forty-six years in jail is Argentina’s longest-serving prisoner ever—is directed by Luis Ortega with an eye for letting us contemplate the possible effect of his attraction toward young men on his crimes—though no outright homosexual act is filmed. The thirty-eight-year-old Buenos Aires writer-director Ortega, whose “Black Box” is more of a character study involving three people than a riveting look at crime, allows Lorenzo Ferro to anchor the movie. Ferro, in his debut as an actor, is in virtually every scene, committing his robberies and murders without much of a motive except to have some fun. The curly-haired seventeen-year-old partners up with Ramón Peralta (Chino Darin) while both are sharing a class in a vocational high school, his choice probably based on the handsome looks of a guy a year or two older whose attention Carlos craves. The partnership is sealed after Carlos holds a Bunsen burner close to his classmate’s back, resulting in suffering a sharp punch to Carlos’s left cheek, and from then on they are fast friends and partners in crime.
Ramón’s role model is the young man’s father, José (Daniel Fanego) an ex-convict who shoots up through his ankles, married to Ana (Mercedes Morán) who at one point tries to seduce Carlos as though playing Mrs. Robinson to Ben Braddock in “The Graduate.” We’re convinced that this Carlitos is the polar opposite of the type of person some of us believe killers resemble.
A string of holdups include the robbery of a couple of dozen guns, some necklaces and rings, and in one case the cracking open of a safe with surprising results. Carlos, obviously a thrill-seeker rather than a needy individual (though in an early scene he sounds like a Marxist), has had a good upbringing with honest and caring parents Héctor (Luis Gnecco) and Aurora (Cecilia). Both look after their boy, obviously overjoyed with the good lucks for which they may take credit, but the best upbringings do not necessarily lead to favorable results.
The robberies and murders are shown as capricious rather than based on a need to do away with witnesses to crimes. In fact they are part of the teen’s need for attention and thrills. A stolen car, one of which leads to a head-on collision that may or may not have been accidental, becomes part of Carlos’s carelessness, a flaw that will lead to his capture and long-term imprisonment.
The film in Spanish with clear subtitles and a terrific soundtrack of over a dozen instrumentals, is Argentina’s entry into the 91st Academy Awards competition, a worthy effort that will cement your impression that lawbreakers, even of the extreme kind, can look like you and me and Robert Bowers.
118 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+