El Bonaerense Review

There’s something at the heart of El Bonaerense which has a disarming power that’s considerably beyond what one might expect from the subject matter. An account of the endemic corruption and disillusionment at the heart of the Argentinean police force – the title comes from a slang term for the Buenos Aires police - the film is quietly naturalistic for the most part but there’s a aching sadness and yearning at the centre which is completely unexpected and raises the film far above its station. It’s not an important film, nor is it a particularly distinguished one, but the intensity of the emotions and the images is such that it proves surprisingly hard to forget.

The story centres around Enriquez Orlando Mendoza (Roman), a locksmith who is hired out by his boss Polaco to small time criminals to help with safecracking. After a seemingly routine job, Mendoza discovers that Polaco has run off and he ends up under arrest. By a turn of fate, however, his Uncle – former chief of police – arranges for Mendoza to go to Buenos Aires where contacts organise his entry into the police force. Soon, Mendoza discovers that the force, badly trained and under-resourced, is hopelessly corrupt and, worse, totally disenfranchised by a system which depends on equal amounts of money and brutality. His training is perfunctory and only a relationship with one of his teachers – a single mother called Mabel (Ardu) – seems to offer him hope of a better life. But when Polaco shows his face in the city, Mendoza realises that he has to make a choice between the law and his own career.

There are many ironies in El Bonaerense but none greater than the concept that Mendoza finds himself far further outside the law as a policeman than he ever did as a part-time safecracker. The picture of the police force given in this film is so bleak that it can proudly stand alongside such cynical accounts of policing at the end of its tether as The Offence and Prince Of The City. What makes this account so effective however is that its so unsensational. Corruption and brutality are accepted by all concerned as part of the system and everyday occurrences seem to be almost expected. The toll which this takes on the individual police men and women is never exaggerated – the film makes it clear how easy it can be to live with moral compromise in a country where money is scarce and jobs even scarcer. But a kind of spiritual emptiness is eloquently evoked, particularly in a scene during a Christmas dinner when the force commander suddenly has a very quiet, chillingly believable nervous breakdown. It’s also seen in the relationship between Mendoza and Mabel where the sense of moral degradation slowly turns things sour and not even sweat-drenched animalistic sex (which seems to have held the couple together) has any meaning after a while.

The undercurrent of desperate sadness is hard to shake off one you’ve watched the film and much of it is contained within the superb performance of Jorge Roman. At 32 he’s older than most of the heroes we tend to see in this kind of film- indeed, the first act of corruption he experiences is the removal of four years from his age - and his sense of world-weary defeat is deeply affecting. He seems to have a reserve which marks him out, even during the scenes during training which are occasionally reminiscent of Police Academy. This performance is the emotional heart of the film and he evokes the pain of a life spent hoping for something better with great eloquence. In particular, the ending - where performance and images come together – is quietly devastating because we understand the hopelessly conflicted feelings of a man who, though finding his way home, is spiritually lost.

El Bonaerense is an understated film which may strike some viewers as needlessly dour and a little too sincere for its own good. But I appreciated the sense of quiet desperation which comes off its characters like sweat and the complexity of its vision of corruption as something which is neither good nor bad but rather a way of life which becomes accepted in society as a natural part of law enforcement. Clearly, it’s a symptom of a sick society and there’s a political agenda here which is, necessarily, subtle and ambivalent. Pablo Trapero’s skill as a director is to make you feel without bashing you over the head with subtext and he produces some images – both of urban squalor (some of it part of the police environment) and rural poverty – which are spectacularly moving. Credit should also go to the cinematogapher Guillermo Nieto. Trapero, who has made a number of films which haven’t been widely seen in the UK, including the awkward but touching Mundo Grua, is clearly a talent to watch and El Bonaerense is worthy of more attention that it has received.

The Disc

Optimum World Cinema have releasedEl Bonaerense on a disc which is devoid of special features but makes up for this through the quality of the transfer. The film has been transferred in its original 1.85:1 aspect ration and is anamorphically enhanced. Given the deliberately grubby look of much of the film, the transfer is impressive. There’s plenty of detail and the large amounts of grain seem to be an intentional part of Trapero’s drive for realism. Some minor artifacting is present in places but this is not a serious issue. Colours are muted but quite impressive and blacks are suitably solid. The soundtrack is a 2 Channel Stereo mix which is clear and clean. Nothing special but there is a sense of urban atmosphere spread over the channels.

The only extras are trailers for Since Otak Left and A Thousand Hours. The English subtitles are burnt-in.

I recommend El Bonaerense to anyone who has been as excited as myself at the explosion in Latin American filmmaking during the past few years. The DVD is functional without being particularly impressive.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 11:50:58

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