A Common Crime review: A poignant but slow-paced drama
Mike Williams | On 20, Apr 2021
Director: Francisco Márquez
Cast: Elisa Carricajo, Mecha Martinez, Eliot Otazo
Where to watch online in the UK: BFI Player / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Google Play / CHILI
What would you do if you saw someone in distress? Would you intervene, hide or simply pretend you didn’t see them? What if your inaction resulted in someone’s death? What then? How does one even begin to process that and move on with life?
Un Crimen Común, an Argentine drama set somewhere in the working class of Buenos Aires, explores the above moral conundrums. A film with barely a handful of actors – very few characters appear on-screen together – means director Francisco Marquez largely relies on and offers almost full attention to Cecilia (Elisa Carricajo), a sociology teacher who has to deal with a particularly challenging scenario involving the son of her maid.
Frivolous fairground fun opens the movie, which boasts a sense of realism as our lead nonchalantly chats to a friend as they end what seems like a pleasant night. For all intents and purposes, this is how the first third of the film plays out – the mundanity of her daily life, as we meet but a few integral faces, notably her maid, Nebe, and her son, Kevin, in an uneventful setup before the catalyst presents itself in the middle of the night when Cecilia hears a thud at her door. Wearily investigating, she sees Kevin, bloodied and bruised. Too afraid to answer, she hides away based on whatever logical reason runs through her head during the panicked moment. The next day, Kevin is found dead. All that has come before this life-changing event is mere exposition to lure us into feeling safe and even a little bored with the normality of this person’s existence.
What Marquez does well is to bring the audience along on Cecilia’s personal nightmare and emotional devastation with what happened. As the reality of her cowardice sets in, the waves of guilt that engulf her are what we are left to unwrap and struggle to process.
In truth, the rest of the film doesn’t feel like it moves forward and never elevates in terms of plot development or incident, aside from when she attempts to come clean to a grieving Nebe. Instead, the focus is to engage us on an emotionally relatable level; the believable performance of Carricajo means we can feel what she is going through, despite the murder not directly having anything to do with her.
Her trauma is our trauma, as we begin to query where the film will eventually take us, and in reality it’s not somewhere revelatory or spectacular. The story only ever gathers pace in a way that is insular to our central character – how she deals with her own hang-ups and what it means to be in a uniquely unpleasant position. For all its carefully constructed inner turmoil, it lacks anything resembling a narrative, choosing to drift, like our shell-shocked subject, towards a non-conclusive finale that is poignant and strangely satisfying in the healing process. This is a hard film to like, let alone enjoy, but while it may fail to keep the attention of some, it does succeed as a humanistic story at its core.
A Common Crime makes you think. It evokes a “what if” hypothetical that could conceivably befall anyone at any time. Perhaps it’s a feature that, upon reflecting its sombre tones and grim balance of life, will make people think – planting the ideas of consequences and failing to act when faced with a moral dilemma, which is a hugely powerful act in itself.