El Cobrador: In God We Trust
Movies and violence seem to go so well together –like peas and carrots, in fact. It’s the winning combination that action flicks are made from, with burly protagonists mowing down horde upon horde of nameless movie extras posing as conveniently evil, expendable henchmen for the film’s equally evil, yet not quite so expendable main antagonist. Still, in movies, instances of violence are contextualized, more often than not. The hero beats up a room full of bad guys since there’s a bomb he needs to defuse in order to save the day; and he socks big bad square in the face because he’s kidnapped his one true love and locked her up in a tower somewhere. It’s context that in some strange and convenient way makes all the violence we see on the movie screen palatable and sensible.
But what happens when you take most of that context away? That seems to be the general idea fuelling Paul Leduc’s crime drama El Cobrador: In God We Trust. Viewers could take the film either as an odd, yet poignant, thought-provoking take on the instance of violence, or a disjointed, disorienting, yet still somewhat exciting one and a half-hour fare.
Spanning a string of numerous locales, from New York and Miami to Mexico and Rio de Janeiro, the film follows the exploits of some rather eccentric individuals. A wealthy, unnamed corporation executive (played by Peter Fonda), though apparently normal at first glance, displays curiously sociopathic tendencies during his evenings, as he runs over lone pedestrians, one after another in the dead of night with his SUV –and all for sport. Cobrador (Lázaro Ramos) on the other hand, is a former mine worker from Brazil who, in a fashion, has found himself in New York. While there he goes on a seemingly pointless killing spree, taking down pretty much everyone he runs into. Caught up in all the madness is an Argentinean photojournalist named Ana (Antonella Costa). In its peculiar narrative style, the plot unwinds as a story of vindication, of characters with an odd brand of justice that is achieved through acts of injustice, and how and why people like them pursue it.
The film is loosely based on a number of stories by Brazilian author Rubem Fonseca –and that could very well explain the film’s ability to draw both ire and praise from viewers. On the one hand –like those found in the works of Fonseca- the film’s lurid, seemingly pointless violence might come off merely as a work’s gimmicky, one-dimensional appeal. On the other hand, though, all that goes on could be taken as a metaphor for society, and a biting critique of contemporary life. Indeed, the former could just be the sort of spectacle that can bait viewers into giving a chance at a film with social commentary abound. Though, of course, that’s only well and good if audiences can catch all these underlying notions, despite the film’s rather unconventional style –otherwise they might just see it as a tremendous waste of time.
Awards: Ariel Awards, Gramado Film Festival, Havana Film Festival
Nominations: Argentinean Film Critics Association Awards, Ariel Awards, Cartagena Film Festival