The most striking moment in Luis Ortega’s El Angel comes early, during what most movies would make into a tense clockwork heist. “I look like my mom when she was young,” declares Carlos (Lorenzo Ferro), the criminal protagonist of Ortega’s vivid, upsetting, Argentine ripped-from-history crime drama. The young man states this while regarding himself in a mirror — wearing a pair of dazzling earrings — in a Buenos Aires jewelry shop he has broken into in 1971. His mom, you’ll likely conclude, must have been a true beauty: Teen Carlos may be a thief and a killer, but he has the face and curls of a Botticelli cherub, his pouty eyes and plump lips touched with sublimity. Criminal partner Ramon (Chino Darin), who often sputters out performative homophobic slurs, is briefly as struck as Carlos — or viewers. Slowly, teasingly, like a lover revealing himself, he pulls out his gun, staring into the mirror with Carlos. Carlos does the same.
El Angel is a crime spree as improvised reverie, one with a subject who is as quick to give away his loot as the director is to make the subtext explicit. It’s not the rise-and-fall narrative we so often get in films about famous crooks; Carlos Robledo Puch, instead, merely dicks around — stealing, occasionally killing — till he’s caught for good. Ortega and Ferro portray this gorgeous sociopath as utterly disaffected, a young man turned on mostly by desires he can’t quite articulate, even to other criminals. He steals and even kills not out of a lust for material goods but out of something more like a turned-on boredom.
Luis OrtegaLorenzo Ferro, Chino Darín, Mercedés Morán, Daniel Fanego, Luís Gnecco, Peter Lanzani, Cecilia Roth, Malena VillaSergio Olguín, Luis OrtegaThe Orchard