By 02 March, 2012

A film directed by Pablo Trapero (El Bonaerense, Crane World, Rolling Family) and acted by Ricardo Darín (The Secret in their Eyes, Luna de Avellaneda, The Son of the Bride) is an artistic concoction meant to be unforgettable. For me, Carancho proved to be a bit of a challenge.

The film develops a very sensitive topic: that of traffic accidents being the main cause of death of under 25-year-olds in Argentina. With approximately 8000 people killed yearly, there are many families affected by this epidemic of car crashes. As a result, insurance claims and compensation hand-outs sustain a multi-million dollar trade. Such a prolific business sets the perfect conditions for leeches to benefit from it.

Sosa (Darín) is part of an organisation that takes advantage of the shock created by an accidental death and the deceased’s relatives’ lack of knowledge on the subject to claim compensations from insurance companies, but keeping most of the money for themselves (these parasite-lawyers are called caranchos). He also helps friends and acquaintances in need of cash to fake accidents, portrayed in gruesome scenes of desperation and pain. Although Sosa is trying to break loose from this Mafioso scam, a debt he has with the organisation means he’s bullied into staying.

In his search for fresh victims, he crosses paths with Luján (Martina Gusmán), a young doctor who tends to victims on the spot and takes them to the nearest hospital to receive medical attention. The film shows what a dangerous job it can be, with patients and doctors being physically and verbally abusive. Inevitably, Luján and Sosa fall in love and they start a whirlwind romance. But when Sosa’s business starts to affect Luján’s job at the hospital, Sosa has to make a life-changing decision.

Before I watched this film for the first time I had no clue as to what the storyline was. For people who are not involved in the situations explored by the film, the word ‘carancho’ – the name of a South American vulture-like bird with the expression “nest of caranchos” used to describe untidiness – doesn’t give much information away. I found the film to be too dark and complicated, with too many violent scenes of accidents, beatings and deaths. It was painful to see how people were putting their trust in these lawyers who only wanted to abuse that trust and steal their money. So that first experience was not a pleasant one.

But the second time I watched it, and knowing what to expect, the film was much more enjoyable. The plot is still gruesome and gory, but the excellent acting and the willingness of Sosa to change his ways and help people struck by misfortune allowed me see a rosier side to it that I had missed before. Once I was able to look past the violence, I got hooked by the story (not only the romantic one!) and the end gives an adequate – yet brutal – closure to the film.

Carancho was very well received at the Cannes Festival and has won several prizes at the Cóndor de Plata Awards 2010 (best film and best director, amongst others). This is a gloomy film that explores a dark topic with brilliant acting by Darín and Gusmán. An Argentinean film not to be missed.

Carancho is in UK cinemas from March 2nd 2012.

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