Contemporary World Cinema
El Angel is a true crime film loosely based on a baby-faced Argentinian serial killer named Carlos Robledo, aka “The Angel of Death”, who killed 11 people in the early 70s. At the start of the film, “Carlitos” is simply a thief. It’s something he’s done his whole life, it comes naturally to him and he even has a philosophy around it: he doesn’t believe in personal property. Most of the things he steals he just gives away to make friends, making him appear rather innocuous. He soon falls in with a family of seasoned criminals who want to up the ante a bit, so I assumed it was one of them who would be revealed to be this famous serial killer promised in the film’s synopsis, and we would meet this cold blooded murderer through this young thief who would soon learn the error of his ways. It wasn’t until Carlitos’ third or fourth victim that I realized that he is indeed the eponymous Angel. That’s his charm. There’s so little premeditation to his crimes that they seem almost innocent, and we keep waiting for him to right the ship, instead he keeps shooting more holes in it.
Carlitos has a couple cinematic brothers in A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex and Badlands‘ Kit. Like them, he doesn’t seem to understand the consequences of his actions. He’s more like a child playing a game, void of remorse or guilt, which in a sense makes him appear almost blameless. This is just who he is and he’ll be himself for as long as he can get away with it.
The way Carlitos sees (or doesn’t see) his own crimes is central to El Angel, and while he’s a different kind of criminal than we’re used to, that doesn’t necessarily make him likeable, and certainly not relatable. In this sense, Luis Ortega’s debut feature always keeps the audience at an arm’s length away. We never know what the protagonist is thinking or what he’s going to do next, which makes the film simultaneously unpredictable and frustrating.