Carancho examines the seedy underworld that follows road traffic accidents in Argentina. We chat with Martina Gusman, producer of, and actress in, the must-see film of 2012.
Road accidents are a booming business. This number one cause of death for young Argentineans has led to a growing industry established around both staging and chasing these accidents, and collaborating with victims and their families for lucrative insurance payouts. In Argentina the corrupt agent providing legal aid to roadside victims is known as a carancho or vulture preying on the vulnerable for a significant cut of the potential financial gain.
The latest film from burgeoning director Pablo Trapero explores the murky underworld surrounding these heists, their victims and the institutions fighting to both save and exploit them. Luján is a young, overworked doctor struggling to cope with the demands of her career through a growing drug dependency, who finds herself dragged into the seedy world of charismatic carancho Sosa. A Neo-Noir love story develops as the protagonists become increasingly desperate from their opposite roles in the nightly charade.
Trapero’s film is overwhelmingly nocturnal and claustrophobic, its action flitting between the inside of squealing ambulances, overpowering strip lighting of hospital corridors and Luján’s lonely, under-inhabited apartment on returning from yet another exhausting shift. Carancho’s brief moments of violence are like a slap in the face in the middle of this fuzzy world where no concept of time or the natural rhythms of day and night exist, and as a result it makes heavy, and at times difficult viewing. However, it is simultaneously full of probing challenges – not least the repeated frustrations the viewer inevitably feels at Luján’s slippery descent into criminal oblivion. The young, intelligent doctor is immensely frustrating in her dealings with the far shadier Sosa and her lack of questioning is infuriating, but it’s through this that Trapero most accurately examines the human condition. Whereas the carancho’s motivation is repeatedly enforced, the protagonist makes one inexplicable error of judgement after another in a manner that highlights that the film can only have the incomprehensibility of a love story at its heart. Carancho is out on DVD and VOD now. www.caranchofilm.com.
The plot is dark and disturbing; do you know where the initial idea for the story originated? Is the “vulture” practice well-known in Argentina?
The idea that planted the seed for Carancho was a newspaper article that Pablo and I read on the high number of deaths caused by traffic accidents in Argentina. The article also stated that this is the main cause of death amongst young people from 20 to 35 years of age. This truly stunned Pablo and he decided to start researching the subject. In doing this, he came across information on the serious problems in the public health sector, involving hospitals and emergency care, and he finally discovered the whole seedy world of the insurance companies taking advantage of the victims of traffic accidents and the lawyers working for them, known as caranchos (vultures). This world is a real mafia, not only in our country but in others too. In fact, “ambulance chasers” are known to operate in countries like the USA.
Was it difficult to balance the roles of actress and producer or did you find yourself almost biased towards Luján as your own character?
My producer role gave me the opportunity to look at the film in its different instances, from research to distribution; it was an intense and enriching process. I must confess that I am still “the producer” when I am acting. I find balance in this double role, as they are two sides of the same process, which I find most interesting. As a producer, I was able to build up the character in a technical, methodical and organised way, putting together a chronogram of medical resources, emergency rooms, shift work and other information. Later, this enabled me to immerse myself as an actress in the inner universe of the solitary woman in so much need of love, and into a more sensorial way of working, which is an important quality, as it is a very sensory film. On the other hand, the dual role was difficult at times. The shoot was long and rather complicated logistically, but I was lucky to receive a lot of support that allowed me to have a wonderful experience.
How did you research the roles of a doctor and a drug addict?
I created the character of Luján in three parts. First is the doctor, with her technical and practical knowledge. Then, there’s the woman: extremely solitary, very needy of love and very fragile. Joined to this solitary being is the addict, so fragile that she needs to “anaesthetise” herself to cope with the dark universe in which she is stuck, and who ultimately develops an addictive relationship with Sosa. I also did ER shifts in a hospital located in the suburbs of Buenos Aires where the film is set. I complemented this with First Aid courses and ambulance shifts. It was a truly unique experience.
The character of Sosa is morally ambivalent. In contrast, Luján’s actions are so frustrating, making neither lead very sympathetic. Did you worry about distancing the audience from your role too much?
I think Luján and Sosa are part of the same universe; they are two sides of the same coin. Luján’s patients are Sosa’s clients. They are morally opposed but they share the same ground. Luján is an emergency doctor; her patients are transient and she is in and out of ambulances and emergency rooms. She is not, let’s say, a paediatrician for instance. This world that she lives in allows her to take part in Sosa’s world; she sees herself reflected in him and this attracts her by filling an empty space. Both characters find a complement in the other that brings them together. It unites them and they feel redemption, hope and love from each other. They are together in the present and looking ahead without questioning the past.
There are elements of Neo-Noir in Carancho. Can you tell me a bit about the cinematic influences on the film and Pablo’s inspiration?
I think Pablo might answer this in a more detailed way, but I think the film is clearly Neo-Noir. It’s a police thriller; it takes place at night, in the streets. It is dark, sordid and suffocating, carries a social context, and of course, it is the beginning of a love story as an aesthetic in the middle of the “war zone”. We watched many films and read books that were of great inspiration to us.
The cinematography evokes a depressing world of constant night-time and artificial lighting, which makes Luján and Sosa’s situation all the more claustrophobic. How did the team build the atmosphere in the film?
Carancho is a very sensorial film. It hits your five senses in an incredible way. You feel the claustrophobia, the tiredness, the pain and vertigo. Like Luján, you have to put your seatbelt on at the beginning and keep it fastened until the end. The cinematography and the mise-en-scène were worked at exhaustively to achieve this, as well as the sound design. It was a great team effort.
Carancho has been well received at festivals; have the reactions of audiences differed inside and outside of Argentina?
The film was very well received in Argentina and also internationally. It was number two in the Box Office in our country and audiences loved it. It began its trajectory at the Cannes Film Festival and continued on to many festivals where it was received with the same intensity. We are very happy with the film’s journey and reach.
You sat on the jury at Cannes yourself. How do the roles of judging and making films differ?
Being part of the jury at Cannes last year was an incredible experience. I was able to experience “the other side” of the industry and share two fantastic weeks with people of immense talent, attending meetings, talks, deliberations and many other activities. I learned so much and it was a completely enriching experience – really a dream come true.