“Carancho” & “The Strange Case of Angelica”

Ah, romance. It takes such wondrously variegated forms. Even in movies. But especially in “real” life, which the movies can sometimes credibly suggest, but never quite completely capture.
“Carancho” and “The Strange Case of Angelica” are both foreign films, and both released in the United States on the same day. Both are essentially romances, but they are polar opposites in their approach, and their context.
“Carancho” is an Argentinean film .by much-decorated Director Pablo Trapero. It’s tough, gritty, violent, and very nearly hopeless. Sosa (Ricardo Darin) is a disgraced attorney-turned-ambulance chaser. He has fallen in with some particularly cynical crooks, who arrange to swindle insurance money from accident victims by handing them a mere fraction of the intended settlement, in cash, up front, in exchange for their signature to give them complete power of attorney. Then, when the insurance company does have to pay up, the swindlers receive the lion’s share of the settlement. And, if business is slow, they go out and stage “accidents,” usually by offering as “victim” someone desperately in need of a little cash. They’ve even managed to attach some paramedics to their payroll, who happily transport the latest “victim” to the emergency room, where they sometimes have to insist on medical treatment, because, well, the beleaguered medical staff just can’t handle the sheer volume of “real” cases, much less have time to sort out the corrupt ones.
Sosa thinks that if he can only work the scam for a while longer, he can make enough to “go clean” and restore his reputation as a legitimate attorney. But, of course, the thugs who hire him keep careful track of the money, and if some is found to be missing, well, they’ll literally take it out of his hide.
On one of those occasions, Sosa meets Lujan (Martina Gusman), the rookie medical school graduate who is willing to ride with the ambulances just to try to make a good impression at the emergency room, where she hopes to be offered a residency for a “real” physician’s position. The problem is, she’s become so accustomed to the lack of sleep that she’s started “shooting up” to keep herself awake. Through the haze of her self-induced stupor, she’s vaguely aware that there are scams and corruption going on around her, but she pretends not to notice.
Sosa becomes quite enamored with Lujan, and she’s so lonely and desperate for affection that she believes this “vulture” when he promises that he’s turning over a new leaf. Their brief intimacy, borne of unfulfilled longing and confined to secret trysts, nevertheless begins to give both of them hope that things really can be different. If they can just con this one last mark, arrange for one last hit, keep the ravenous wolves at bay for just a little while longer…..
“The Strange Case of Angelica” (“O Estranho Caso de Angelica”) is a Portugese film by the ageless Director Manoel de Oliveira (can he really be directing films at 102 years old?). It’s set in the 1950’s, but feels even older, like something out of the 1930’s, as if they’re really just filming a stage play, even in the outdoor scenes. Marido (Filipe Vargas) is a lonely young man who fancies himself as a photographer, staying in a small boarding house, and taking stark pictures of laborers with pick axes, working in the fields. The village is sleepy and orderly. Not much happens, until late one night Marido is rousted from his sleep by an urgent request from a nearby wealthy family to take a photograph of their lovely Angelica (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), who’s just deceased, quick, before her stunning beauty begins to seriously decompose. Marido takes a few pictures, but something extraordinary happens to him---through his lens, he thinks he sees her smile at him. He is so stunned that he can hardly speak, and when he returns to his room he becomes obsessed with his fantasy of this girl, who comes to him at night, floating in the air, beckoning him to join her floating over the landscape. It’s so pathetic that it’s kind of endearing, because it seems so innocent. Throw in the stately pacing, the stilted demeanor, and the Chopin music in the background, and you have the kind of idyllic, phantasmal fantasy/romance that you would expect from a much earlier, simpler, time.
Both of these foreign films are about love’s obsession. Both are, in their own ways, unsatisfying, and their endings are eerily similar. But unrequited is often more interesting by its very inherent tension.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas