Skip to content

EL ANGEL (2018) review

January 9, 2019



written by: Luis Ortega
produced by: Agustín Almodóvar and Pedro Almodóvar
directed by: Luis Ortega
rated: not rated
runtime: 118 min.
U.S. release date: October 20, 2018 (Chicago International Film Festival), November 9, 2018 (limited) & January 11, 2019 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL)


Whether it’s a theatrical release, digital or VOD, it feels like a new “inspired by true events” or “based on a true story” film comes out every week. Why just this week here in Chicago there’s “The Upside” (an American remake of a French biopic) opening the same day as Argentine-Spanish crime drama “El Angel”, after making its premiere in the the Un Certain Regard section at last May’s Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Argentinian filmmaker Luis Ortega, the film, which revolves around Argentine serial killer Carlos Robledo Puch, was selected as the Argentine entry for Best Foreign Language for this year’s Academy Awards, but didn’t make the December shortlist. Typically, such an exclusion would be considered unfortunate, but my guess is that the committee found Ortega’s film lacking in substance and in dire need of some choice revelations that would illuminate the unrepentant protagonist of the film.

The film takes place in 1971 Buenos Aires, where we’re introduced to a teenage Carlos Robledo Puch (Lorenzo Ferro), a young man who stands out with his babyface looks, curly long blonde hair and pouty lips. It’s his attitude and behavior which set him apart from his peers. He believes that whatever is not his can easily be accessible and acts out on this through his unique talent for brazen thievery, often testing out his imagined lives of others. He can effortlessly brake into any residence or business and take whatever he fancies or ride a motorcycle home and inform his working-class parents that a friend lent it to him. His mother (Cecilia Roth) is uncomfortable and suspicious of her son’s behavior and remains in denial as she maintains hope that Carlos will make the honest decisions. To his peers, he comes across as strange, erratic and unstable, yet there’s a curious (and confusing) magnetism about “Carlitos” (a name he prefers, as opposed to “blondie”) that makes the over-confident and smug character an undeniable draw.




One day Carlitos comes across a handsome local tough guy at school Ramón Peralta (Chino Darín) and befriends him in a most unconventional manner. In no time, he infiltrates his way into Ramón’s family, consisting of his cautious father José (Daniel Fanego), who has a criminal past, and his curious mother Ana María (Mercedes Morán), who’s drawn to Carlos unique look. The father introduces Carlitos to guns and Carlitos includes him and Ramón on his theft excursions, robbing gun stores and affluent homes in the middle of the night Although Carlito and Ramón manage a formidable crime spree, while dancing around their attraction to each other, but it’s Carlito’s unpredictably and flippant disregard for life – his own and everyone around him – that grindss their path of crime to an inevitable standstill.

If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of Carlos Robledo Puch. Before I watched “El Angel”, I wanted to prep myself a little and at least read a synopsis of the film. When I found out the film was based on a true story (or “inspired by true events”, whatever) and that “as of July 2017”,  Carlos, now age 66, “has spent over 45 years in prison, making him the longest-serving prisoner in Argentina,” (per Wikipedia) well, I was officially intrigued. However, while watching the actual film, I became less and less intrigued for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it didn’t live up to the fascinating (and horrifying) bio-blurbs I had read about the subject.

Various online sources stated that once Carlos Robledo Puch’s nefarious activities became well known by the public, he was called the “Angel of Death” and “The Black Angel”, primarily due to his so-called angelic looks. Indeed, this is confirmed in actual pictures of Carlos, as well as the actor portraying him here, making it seem like Carlos should grace the covers of Teen Beat (I know that’s a dated reference, but considering this is a 70s period piece, it’s fitting) instead of the wall of an Argentinian precinct.




Whether you know the details surrounding Carlos Robledo Puch before or after you see “El Angel”, you’re still likely to wonder where all these details were in the film. Granted, the film abruptly ends as Carlito is basically giving himself up and waiting for the authorities to arrive and apprehend him after he makes a monitored call to his mother while on the lamb. So, this means that Ortega is not including his protagonist’s rap sheep of convictions: 11 murders, one attempted murder, 17 robberies, one rape, one attempted rape, one count of sexual abuse, two kidnappings and two thefts (Wikipedia uses this source). Sure we see some of this criminal behavior, but most of the time we’re just left wondering what in the world is going on with this punk kid. It’s not that I need to see his long rap sheet played out on screen, but it does feel like the film lingers way too long on a character without revealing much about him.

The fact is, we learn more about Ramón and his family than we do Carlos and his, despite Cecilia Roth making a compelling presence throughout as his mother. Maybe that’s the problem I have with “El Angel” – the protagonist and Lorrenzo Ferro, who played him – should’ve grabbed my attention, made me lean in a little closer, at least that’s what I hoped for. Instead, I just wanted to take the kid over my knee and set him straight, instead of truly study him.

While “El Angel” certainly has an ambitious style with kinetic editing that injects the film with contagious energy, it’s hard to put a finger on what Ortega thinks of his subject. Is the film glamorizing or condemning Carlitos? That’s not necessarily an important question to answer in such a film, but it did gnaw at me as I watched “El Angel”, since it ultimately comes across as if the director couldn’t quite get a handle on what he wants to communicate. He certainly didn’t provide us with a compelling characterization of this Angel.







No comments yet

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: