El Bonaernese: Argentina’s Trooper Not-So-Elite

Hot Fuzz or the Trooper Elite: A country boy falls among hapless, crooked Buenos Aires cops who have this eerie sense that UFOs are watching their every move and that the Rapture is nigh.

Cinecismo (Argentina) — “Cinecism,” if you get the play on words there– reviews El bonaerense — the local nickname for the Buenos Aires police department — released in Brazil as “On the other side of the law.”

I always find myself really, irritated by the way Brazilian distributors have of utterly mangling the original titles of movies.

We rented this one at this upscale locadora called 2001, along with my own umpteenth viewing of Le salaire de la peur (“Wages of Fear.”) The ultimate film on the expat experience, dude.

2001 maintains hundreds of feet of shelf space for contemporary American titles, often badly dubbed (100 copies apiece). It reserves about 10% of that space for “national titles” [one or two copies apiece] and a measly collection of titles from other nations south of the Rio Bravo.

Not a Mexican film in the bunch, for example, although you can find a (very incomplete) Buñuel collection, for example, in the “art” (old and somewhat turgid) section. We rented Él the other day, for example, but had to stare at the cover for a long, long time to figure out that O Alucinado [“the mentally unstable guy”] was that that one Buñuel title we always wanted to see but never had.

If Buñuel wanted to make sure that we interpreted the “He” of the title as a gibbering head case, he would have given the film a title that made that point.

But he didn’t. He deliberately didn’t. And what they have done to Hitchcock’s North by Northwest? You do not even want to know. It’s an outrage. There ought to be a law.

Likewise for 2001’s collection of Argentine cinema, which we are big fans of. There is none to speak of.

But Nove Rainhas [remade as the flat, uninspiring Criminal back in gringoland, but itself worthy of the Mamet classics that probably inspired it, such as House of Games]?

Plata Quemada?

Freaking good movies.

(But you will need subtitles, even if you have good Spanish. Argentine Spanish is many things, but the evening newscast on Univisión it is definitely not.)

2001 is also expensive, and has this service ethic that prompts the employees to treat you as though you were there picking out mink coats. They constantly want to know if they can help you. They circle around you like nervous trainers in a bear act. Their manager is giving them the hairy eyeball to make sure that they assault you with maximum intrusive unctuousness.

They are not always very well-informed, but they look frightened when they do not know something and you seem disappointed — as I often do, being an insufferably opinionated and obnoxious movie-browser — as though they were going to be taken out back and flogged for failing to delight the customer.

This kind of customer-service experience tends to give me — the gringo lumpenbourgeios with a strong dose of Missouri-raised small-d democratic values — the creeps.

I tend to prefer my old video store in Brooklyn, run by this extraordinarily rude, Slurpee-sucking black guy, inextricably embedded in a tottering, gooey pile theory in which only he could possibly find stuff — but who could reach out and grab just about any weird thing you could dream up, from Orgazmo to Ball of Fire (a screwball-comic, mafia- and sociolinguistics-themed update of Snow White with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.)

We are not renting at 2001 anymore. There has got to be some joint around here run by the Paulistano doppelganger of our video guy back in Brooklyn — whom, unfortunately, we saw less of once we got hooked on NetFlix. And we are on a mission to find him or her.

El Bonaerense — suggested translation: “Buenos Aires’ Finest” — is an intriguing exercise in cinema povera that you could compare in very, very interesting ways with the hot, hot, hot Tropa de Elite — coming to a gringo theater near you in January, one reads.

It provides an infinitely less pumped-up, overheated story about the rise through the ranks of a police corporal who falls in with a precinct of cheerfully crooked cops in the Argentine capital — winding up as the precinct captain’s trusted bribe collector.

Completely lacking the ultraviolence of Tropa, along with its pumped-up video-game cross-marketing soundtrack.

The soundtrack here is mostly quiet country music, similar to guarania and that gaucho music you also hear in the south of Brazil. There is Latin party music, similar to the brega you hear in Brazil or that crazy cybercumbia the kids are into these days, but only as ambient music, as part of the party scenes.

There is only one real act of violence in the entire film, during a culminating incident in which our hero confronts a man who set him up as the patsy in a modest little heist pulled back in his rural birthplace — precipitating his flight to the capital, where his big, fat, crooked uncle has pull with the local fuzz. And even that violence is not graphic at all, really. Bada bing, as they say, bada boom. It’s over.

El bonaerense narra la historia de Enrique Orlando Mendoza, el Zapa para los amigos, un humilde cerrajero de provincias que se convierte, por esos azares que tiene la vida, en agente de la Policía Bonaerense.

This film tells the story of Enrique Orlando Mendoza, “Zapa” to his friends, a humble locksmith from the provinces who becomes, through one of those twists of fate that life sometimes hands you, a police private in the Buenos Aires PD.

A dicha conversión está dedicado el primer tramo de la película, que funciona como introducción y es lo mejor, por varios cuerpos, del segundo largometraje de Pablo Trapero (cuya opera prima, Mundo grúa, hizo que casi todos mis colegas empezasen a llenar sus bocas con eso que aún las ocupa: el nuevo cine argentino, versión siglo XX al XXI). Debo decir que los azares no son tales: Mendoza revienta una caja fuerte por encargo de su jefe en la cerrajería, quien le “hace la cama” y se borra, de modo que a poco de empezar nuestro protagonista es apresado por la Bonaerense. Poco después, un tío suyo, que ha sido parte de esa fuerza con rango de principal, entra a mover contactos para hacerlo zafar del brete. La primera consecuencia de esta operación (de punta a punta ilegal) será la libertad del sobrino. La segunda, que se impone muy naturalmente, será su incorporación a la Policía Bonaerense. Este fragmento inaugural dice más sobre la maldita policía (y sobre la forma en que funciona el mundo) que todo lo que tenemos por delante.

This transformation is recounted in the first chapter of the film, which serves as a prologue and is the best part, by far, of this second feature from Pablo Trapero (whose masterpiece, Mundo grúa, got all my friends talking incessantly about a topic they still have not exhausted: The new Argentine cinema, the 20th century versus the 21st century. I should say that these twist of fates are not really all that accidental: Mendoza opens a safe on the orders of his boss at the locksmith’s shop, who makes him the fall guy and splits the scene, for which reason our hero finds himself in the custody of El Boarense not long after the story opens. An uncle, a former ranking officer on the force, pulls strings to get him off the hook. The first step in which operation is getting his nephew out of jail. The second, naturally, is getting him a job on the police force. This opening fragment says more about the awful state of the police (and the way the world works) than anything that comes after.

I personally liked it better than that. The protagonist reminds me a bit of Rantes from Hombre mirando al sudeste (“Man Facing Southeast.”)

Entre muchos otros entes que han sumado esfuerzos para El bonaerense figura Pol-ka, la productora que acumula más experiencia en lo que se refiere a colaborar con la policía real para nutrir de verosimilitud a la policía de ficción (desde “Poliladron” a “099 Central”, con todo lo que hubo en el medio). Estas colaboraciones nunca han sido del todo gratuitas para la ficción. Más allá de las obligadas menciones en los créditos, lo que siempre dominó en las tiras fue otra clase de agradecimientos, bajo la forma de pinceladas más o menos complacientes con diversos rasgos de la institución policial. No se trata de juzgar, sí tal vez de comparar, y en cualquier caso de tomar nota, porque esas pinceladas vuelven a hacerse presentes. Ya durante la instrucción del Zapa, es decir a lo largo del camino que lo llevará de aspirante a agente de la Bonaerense, entra en pantalla un oficial que quiere hacer el duro pero no le sale (y no al actor, sino al guión). Les dice larvas, es más o menos bruto, pero qué va, ¡he tenido profesores mil veces más tiranos en el secundario! (y atenti que no lo hice en el Liceo Militar).

Among the many forces that contributed to making the film was Pol-ka, a production company with a lot of experience collaborating with real police in the interests of realism (from Poliladrón to 099 Central and everything between). These collaborations have never been utterly gratuitious fictions. Besides the thanks expressed in the credits, what you always find in these cop flicks is another kind of thanks, in the form of brushstrokes that paint certain aspects of our police institutions in a more or less complacent light. It is not a matter of judging the films in this light, but perhaps simply of comparing them [to real life], and in any case taking note, because those brushstrokes are present once again here. During Zapa’s training, that is to say, through the entire process by which he becomes a cop, an officer enters the scene who wants to play the hard-ass but cannot manage it (the character cannot manage it, I mean; I am not talking about a failure by the actor). He calls them maggots, he is more or less brutal, but please: I had teachers 1,000 times as mean in high school! (And I did not attend military school, eitehr, mind you.)

Después, y por mucho rato, todo se parece justamente a las tiras de la tele: una mirada desde adentro, pero en todos los sentidos, a la policía (en este caso bonaerense), que al fin de cuentas aparece como una gran familia, con sus ovejas grises por supuesto –y más bestia que otras, desde ya–, pero familia al fin. Para entonces uno empieza a retorcerse en la butaca. No es que se acuerde de esos títulos que tuvieron a Palito Ortega y Carlitos Balá por animadores… pero más o menos. Y definitivamente se pregunta: ¿Pero cómo? ¿Y la corrupción (juego clandestino, droga, prostitución, coimas de todo tipo)? ¿Y el gatillo fácil? ¿Y las conexiones (turbias y más turbias) con el poder económico y político? Lo primero que aparece de todo esto, y aparece bastante tarde, es la corrupción. Concretamente: dos agentes levantan una coima consistente en… dos pandulces. Téngase en cuenta que estamos a horas de Noche Buena, y uno de ellos se lo donan al protagonista. Este es el momento más aciago de toda la película. A esta altura, los silencios ya me habían empezado a resultar vacíos; y las secuencias de enlace, largas.

After, and for a good portion of the film, everything looks just like cop shows on the TV. A look inside the police force, in every sense of the word, which in the end looks like one big family, with its black sheep, of course … but nevertheless, a family. …

Es cierto que más tarde aparecerán otras manchas… pero qué quieren que les diga: casi todas con fórceps. El gatillo fácil, por ejemplo, sólo cobra de víctimas a jóvenes que, previamente a los tiros, ejercen algún tipo de resistencia o agresión a la autoridad. Y más aun: que son el arquetipo, por no decir estereotipo, del marginal/delincuente, del tipo jodido y de mirada torva, del que “se la buscó”, del que mal anda y mal acaba o, si prefieren, del que “algo habrá hecho”. También están las rondas de “recaudación”, toda una institución dentro de la institución, en las que el poli cobra coimas pautadas y mensuales, como si fueran impuestos, para financiar al comisario y la comisaría. Pero el comisario (la comisaría) es el techo absoluto, el límite infranqueable de El bonaerense. Ni una palabra, ni una imagen, sobre las conexiones con el poder político. Y sin el poder político (de concejales para arriba, y muy hasta arriba) no se puede entender en absoluto a la maldita policía. Ni las coimas (que son la contracara del presupuesto “oficial”, minúsculo, que perciben todas las reparticiones), ni el gatillo fácil (casi siempre en connivencia con los punteros), ni la impunidad (que garantizan jueces y políticos), ni nada.

It is true that more negative aspects appear later on … but most all of them are born using the forceps, reluctantly. That trigger-happiness, for example, only affects young people who are shown resisting or assaulting officers first, before shots ring out.

There is one scene — our hero, still assigned to sweeping up the precinct, glimpses a lot of the action from a distance, peeking through a window —  of a drunken cop wrangling with some kids on a motorcyle. The scene is plenty shocking. They peel out and the guy whips out his pistol and blam! blam! blam! blam! He has to be restrained by a colleague. I personally found that shocking enough.

Pero volvamos a lo que hay, no a lo que falta. Otra cosa que hay es, nuevamente, el estilo de Pablo Trapero para dirigir a los actores y plasmar los diálogos. Me refiero a la libertad (a mi gusto, no muy bien entendida) para las improvisaciones, y a una inclinación ilimitada por la frescura de primera toma (o qué sé yo, de segunda), que derivan en yerros de léxico, reiteraciones, balbuceos y etc. En otras palabras: en bocadillos en los que lo único fresco, o lo más fresco, es aquello que debería permanecer oculto (es decir: la presencia de un actor tratando de decir lo suyo). Si para muestra basta un botón reparen en ese vigilante que tiene que decir “me voy”, y dice “me pego el palo”… cuando debería haber dicho “me tomo el palo”. De estas hay miles. Más acá del abordaje de la temática institucional-policial, es esto último lo que quita fluidez a El bonaerense en cuanto “historia humana”, o narración centrada en personajes.


Con todo y pese a todo, Jorge Román (el formoseño que hace al Zapa) redondea un trabajo formidable.

Still and all, Jorge Román, who plays Zapa, gives a formidable performance.


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