Carlitos (Lorenzo Ferro) strolls down the sidewalk, sporting a crop denim jacket with matching boot-cut jeans, wearing a bold, yellow shirt, as he hops over a gate, and narrates from an internal voice: “¿La gente está loca? ¿Nadie considera la posibildad de ser libre? Andar por donde se te encanta. Como se te encanta,” opening Luis Ortega’s stylish film El Ángel.
Carlitos invites himself into a stranger’s home, using the unlocked front door as his entrance. The home is a fashionable pattern of bold whites, blacks, and reds — from the white shag-carpets sitting on top of the red-wine carpet floors, to the plastic moldings that interchange between red and white set across black, leather couches. Carlitos stuffs his pockets with jewelry as he makes his way to the standing vinyl player, where he plays “El Extraño del Pelo Largo.” He paces to the audience’s mid-view, and dances, until the camera zooms into his eyes, and cuts.
The next scene is in conjunction with the first. “El Extraño del Pelo Largo” is entering the bridge, and a row of three MG convertibles is in view, but what attracts the young thief the most is a Guerra Sport motorcycle, which he steals and uses to get home to his parents. Everything within the first five minutes of El Ángel is a stunning display of Buenos Aires in 1971, which is what makes this film so problematic.
El Ángel is a based off the real-life murder, rapist, and thief Carlos Robledo Puch, who is known as both “The Angel of Death” and “The Black Angel,” and who is also serving a life sentence in Argentina. Luis Ortega directs a captivating film, following the baby-faced robber and murder, who charms not only his partner-in-crime Ramón (Chino Darín), but also Ramón’s parents. The sexual tension between Carlos and Ramón, and even Carlos and Ramón’s mom and dad, is entertaining, like the cinematic explosions that cue the thrilling, up-beat “La Casa del Sol Naciente” (“House of the Rising Sun”).
Although a fun watch, El Ángel offers only a shallow representation of the criminal, which makes no attempt to explore the psyche of his character. Interestingly, when Carlitos is captured by the law, and the film switches to black-and-white footage recording a psychoanalyst, who is making a correlation between Carlitos’s sexuality and his amoral behavior, the film makes no attempt to define or correct the differentiation between social “deviances.”
Luis Ortega’s priority is in presenting a sleek film, depicting the beauty of each scene’s fashion, furnishing, and the beauty in causing chaos, like when Carlitos excuses his actions as an exercise of freedom. The most obvious representation of beauty, is that which Cariltos exhibits. When Carlitos dons a pair of pearl earrings, Ramón describes him as Marilyn Monroe. The dynamic between Carlitos and Ramón is evidently a play between Bonnie and Clyde. I question the intent in portraying heinous criminals as cool, uncompromising characters.
Most recently, I’ve seen the new trailer for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile featuring Zac Efron as Ted Bundy. In the film’s trailer, Ted Bundy is depicted as handsome, smart, and again, as an uncompromising, collected person. The focus on these characters is superficial at best. These films’ effort is in rendering a photogenic, enigmatic character, illustrating the first of many steps to formulating a successful blockbuster. The script feels typical of films that frequently feature the cis-het, fatale dynamic duo, and so it’s disappointing to see a film adapt a queer duo under the same heteronormative dynamic. El Ángel subscribes a queer character to a heteronormative script, but for what end? Does this film reach an international community of queer, Spanish-speakers? And, if it does, does the queer community support the film industry’s desire to recreate heinous criminals as smart, beautiful, and fashionable, more so than the vile, complex individuals these characters are meant to be, or in Carlitos’s case, were in real life?
Overall, El Ángel would have done better if it delved into Carlitos’s sociological environment, psychological behavior, or even the manifestation of the characters’ queer relationship. I still recommend El Ángel for its upbeat soundtrack, bold cinematography, stunning direction and shots, and even its fresh cast. I’d say, watch the film for its more fictional aspects than for its representation of “true events.”
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