Dir: Carlos Hugo Christiansen | Argentina, Noir 85′
Argentine director/co-writer Carlos Hugo Christiansen (1914-1999) was one of the leading lights of Argentine cinema during its “Golden Age” after WWII, and directed 54 feature films that pushed the boundaries of what was considered permissible back in the day. Together with Alejandro Casona, Christiansen – who was of Danish parentage – adapted three short stories written by the “King of Gloom” Cornell Woolrich (Rear Window), another leading proponent of of Film Noir. In 1937 Christiansen decided to let If I Die before I wake stand alone with a running time of 73 minutes, leaving Alguin al telefono and El Pajaro as a well matched duo of darkness under the common title Nunca Abre Esa Puerta.
Both features are set in a domestic environment which somehow heightens the seething atmosphere of terror that gradually seeps into both films, especially as a women are the target of suppressed and confused male emotions of jealousy and revenge. Alguin stars Angel Magaña as Raul Valdez whose sister Luisa (Dumas) is in thrall to a shady old man (Fiorito) who wants her body and the gambling debts she owes him.
Raul’s interest in his sister is more insidious than he cares to admit to himself, but he is also bound by a brotherly desire to defend her honour and avenge her death. Naturally Christiansen had to handle this in a discrete narrative so as not to upset the influential Catholic Church. We see Raul moving around his sister’s neo-modernist apartment like a naughty schoolboy up to no good on the pretence of offering her ‘brotherly protection’. But Raul’s jealousy eventually explodes and he hits Luisa, suspecting her debtor of competing for her affections. Poor Luisa is also being terrorised by mysterious phone-calls causing her to commit suicide. Raul puts two and two together and – quiet wrongly – suspects the culprit is also the old man. But he is in for a surprise. Soon we see him being threatened by the same calls that caused Luisa to take her own life.
El Pajaro features one of Woolrich’s most famous – and recurring villains – the whistler. Each time recidivist criminal Daniel (Roberto Escalada) offends, he can’t help whistling. Once again the focus is the family, and sexual jealousy rears its head with the males in denial of their feelings: this time the trio involves Daniel, his accomplice Raul (Luis Otero) and Maria (Norma Jimenez) who is Daniel’s childhood love and now lives with her blind mother Rosa (Ilde Pirovano). Raul represses his not-so-brotherly love for his sister Maria, and Daniel is arrogant and self-centred, preferring to kill instead of love. Daniel is the proto-type psychopath of the Woolrich oeuvre, a man incapable of love. Chiaroscuro camerawork is a vital element allowing Rosa to tell the difference between night and day (“it’s a different kind of shadow”).
Alguin al telefono and El Pajaro are worlds apart in their social milieux, but they both focus on family dysfunction. Christiansen pictures this languid descent into darkness for both his anti-heroes as their characters implode – a central element of noir cinema – at a time when the sanctity of the family and Church were paramount in Argentina. AS
ARGENTINA NOIR CINEMA | VIENNALE 2022