Who’s behind it all?
Argentina / 19 minutes / color with some bw / Universida del Cine BA, El Curupí Dir: Santiago Esteves Pr: Ezequiel Pierri Scr: Juan Manuel Bordón, Santiago Esteves Cine: Cecilia Madorno, Agustín Mendilaharzu Cast: Edgardo Livov, Esteban Lamothe, Agustina Liendo, Oscar Bejarano, Alejandro Lingenti, Hugo Huerga.
An interesting Argentinean neonoir short about which I know very little, having come across it at Short Film Connection. It would appear to be a student movie, and yet its lead player, Esteban Lamothe, was already by 2011 a well established screen actor.
Before the opening credits we’re looking at a tranquil café scene in Buenos Aires when suddenly a gunman (Bejarano) enters the place and shoots dead one of the patrons.
Most of the rest of the movie takes place—with flashbacks—in the car in which police driver Martínez (Lamothe) is taking elderly detective Winter (Livov) to a meeting with the widow of the murdered man, Ferruccio. En route, Martínez quizzes Winter about the unsolved case, which apparently happened some while ago.
Edgardo Livov as Winter.
Ferruccio (Huerga) was an incurable insomniac who got into the habit of working all through the night. Because he was doing deals while all of his competitors slept, in due course he became an immensely wealthy and powerful businessman. Then he met and married a very much younger woman (Liendo); even though he now slept at nights, his business remained successful. But then, out of nowhere, came his murder.
He left, in effect, three heirs. The Widow received half the property, but was expected to play no part in the business. The Son (who doesn’t appear) inherited the other half and was expected to play a part in the business. And then there was Domingo Márquez (Lingenti), whom Ferruccio first discovered as a golf caddie and whom the businessman had trained up to be his right-hand man and, in effect, adoptive son. The Son and Márquez tried running the business together but constantly fought, until one day the Son summarily sacked his rival.
Agustina Liendo as the Widow.
With the connivance of the Widow, Márquez bankrupted the Son but then pretended friendship. The one thing of value the Son still had left, Márquez told him, was a racehorse the old man had bought not long before his death. The Son should auction it—it could easily fetch $500,000. But of course Márquez rigged the auction, got the horse for a song and then, just to add insult to injury, made a huge killing when he ran it in the big race at Palermo.
At the races.
Márquez didn’t have long to enjoy his winnings, though. That very night he was gunned down in the street.
When the Son, having fled into hiding, was located by Winter and his men, he committed suicide, and that seemed to close the case—at least so far as the elderly cop was concerned.
All through this conversation we’ve been aware that there’s some hidden undercurrent, that the relationship between the two men isn’t quite as it appears on the surface. And, sure enough, in the movie’s latter stages we discover that the story we’ve been told isn’t quite what happened in reality.
Esteban Lamothe as Martínez.
In structural terms, this is a deeply imperfect movie. As noted, the bulk of it consists of a conversation between Winter and Martínez. Although there are copious flashbacks from this conversation to the story’s prior events, most of those flashbacks comprise a voiceover from Winter telling us what happened, with little or no playing out on screen of those events—in other words, the movie commits the sin of telling rather than showing. Even the horse race at Palermo—the region of Buenos Aires, not the Italian city—is shown to us in the form of black-and-white stills; the technique’s actually quite effective, but I did feel the movie could have done with an injection of some excitement in the form of pounding hooves, punters rising to their feet, grim-faced jockeys and so forth. Winter tells us laconically in voiceover that Márquez’s horse stumbled and nearly fell in the final stretch, but still managed to recover sufficiently to win; what a wasted opportunity for an action sequence!
Matters aren’t really helped by the fact that in the flashbacks—the ones that aren’t just evocative nighttime cityscapes or Buenos Aires street scenes, that is—the cinematography tends to be very dark, so that it’s hard to make out what’s actually going on. For example, while Lingenti is credited as Márquez, his brief moment on the screen is so murky that we can’t perceive his face at all while his body is so indistinct that he could as well be played by a woman as a man.
So, we have a very talky movie with on-screen action minimized, presumably for budgetary reasons. And yet, for me at least, the result worked. I’m not sure it would have done so had this been a feature or even an hour-long TV episode rather than a nineteen-minute short, but the story itself is strong enough that it compensates for the various failings. Moreover, the performances of Lamothe and Livov—all the other contributions are bit parts—have enough confidence and conviction about them that they very effectively carry the movie. Livov’s Winter is an amiable companion whose presence we enjoy, even as we realize that his years of police experience don’t make up as much as he evidently thinks they do for his lack of smarts—he’s a bit Dunning–Kruger, in other words, but not in an irritating way. And Lamothe very effectively conveys that Martínez is not exactly what he seems . . . but then isn’t it possible that we’ve got it the wrong way round, that it’s Winter who isn’t exactly what he seems?
Los Crímenes is under twenty minutes long, and it has Chopin (as well as, okay, the Sex Pistols) on the soundtrack. I’d say it’s well worth anybody’s gamble.
Here’s that link again. You can also find the movie on Vimeo (thanks to Old Boy for this link) and, without subtitles, on the Cineargentino site, and doubtless elsewhere. But Short Film Connection has all sorts of other unusual goodies that you might find it rewarding to check out.