Judge Paul Pritchard's idea of upward mobility is rising from his couch.
"If you make them and sell them, then you're a dealer."
Like most people, I am occasionally guilty of judging a book—or in this case, a DVD—by its cover. So when Caño dorado arrived unexpectedly in the mail, I had little hope this Argentinian crime thriller would be anything more than 110-minutes of boredom. The accompanying press release contained a plot synopsis that was hardly inspiring, and the cover art—so frequently a poor indicator of a film's quality—was remarkably lackluster. However, my perception changed dramatically, the moment I fired up the DVD. Caño dorado isn't just a great movie, it's the perfect example of why I love film: finding those unexpected gems that reveal an exciting new filmmaker, one who takes a well worn genre and makes it feel fresh.
Living with his mother in one of the poorer suburbs of Buenos Aires, Panceta (Lautaro Delgado) scrapes together a living working in his late father's workshop. Tired of the mundanity of his existence, Panceta dreams of making some real money, and quickly realizes he can do so by making pipe guns and selling them to the local gangs. Word soon spreads of Panceta's work, bringing the attention of a local crime boss who wishes to purchase a large quantity of these pipe guns. Whilst on his way to the meeting, Panceta meets Clara (Camila Cruz), who works at the local social club. The two are immediately attracted to one other, and Clara soon agrees to accompany Panceta on a fishing trip he has planned. But Panceta's newfound happiness is short lived, due to a startling revelation by Clara and the increasingly violent behavior of his new criminal associates.
While the deliberate pace of Caño dorado may be off-putting to some, viewers blessed with a little patience will find themselves rewarded by a film that is bold, forthright, and unflinching in its presentation and its depiction of life on the crime-ridden suburban streets of Buenos Aires.
Long stretches of the film pass by with very little incident, while Panceta and Clara get to know each other as they slowly cruise down the Delta. But to assume nothing is going on would be a grave mistake. For what Caño dorado does, better than many of its peers, is really get under the skin of its characters. Through brief conversations and shared silences, the viewer is able understand the motivations of the two lovers. Panceta, through means that put people closest to him in grave danger, is simply looking for a little upward mobility. It's not hard to see why, as an honest days work in his father's old workshop brings so little reward. Clara is a little more complicated. Her existence revolves around working in her grandfathers social club, and sordid sexual liaisons with the male clientele. We are never given a reason for Clara's promiscuousness, though her time with Panceta suggests a need for companionship, which unfortunately has seen her cozy up with the wrong crowd in the past.
What keeps Caño dorado such a gripping experience is the way writer/director Eduardo Pinto gradually increases the sense of doom that hangs over Panceta. By throwing in with a local crime boss, Panceta has put himself in a situation he cannot control, finding himself dealing with men to whom human life has little value, and have no qualms about getting to Panceta through harassment of his mother. There are also small, but no less powerful, snippets of everyday life in the Buenos Aries suburbs that paint a picture of a society on the brink. Young boys are frequently seen wielding pipe guns, seemingly doomed to a (short) life of violence in the absence of anything else being offered them.
In terms of its visuals, Caño dorado is a resounding success. Director Eduardo Pinto utilizes a range of techniques to deliver a remarkable looking picture. Scenes range from the beautiful to the nightmarish, as Pinto's bold presentation heightens the tone of each respective scene. The way Pinto captures his Argentinian home is full of contrasts, as the natural beauty of its rural areas clashes with its violent rundown suburban streets. The film's final moments take on a horror movie-like aesthetic, which—when coupled with some of Panceta's hallucinations—recalls the work of Christophe Gans' Silent Hill.
The screener sent for review contained a sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with high detail and deep black levels. The image is often intentionally manipulated, with colors frequently appearing a little washed out. The Dolby 5.1 surround track, which comes with the option of English subtitles, features clear dialogue and an excellent score accompanied by intricate effects work.
Caño dorado is something special, akin to watching the early works of Tarantino or Fincher. This is an assured piece of filmmaking, bristling with a raw energy, and showing a remarkable amount of vision. Those looking for a crime thriller that offers something different, Caño dorado should be high on your list.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
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