(for all dispatches, go here)
Back at Noir City XII, we were treated to the most harrowing film I ever saw at Noir City, a classic from Argentina called El Vampiro Negro. I wrote about this remake of Fritz Lang's M here, and I mentioned that it was brought to Eddie Muller's attention by film historian Fernando Martín Peña. Señor Peña struck again on Saturday evening, and the result is yet another pristine 35mm print of a harrowing noir classic from the land of tango and malbec.
Gaspar (Carlos Cores) is a Buenos Aires newspaperman who enters into a journalistic correspondence course scheme with newfound friend, Liudas (Vasilli Lambrinos). Liudas is a Hungarian ex-pat who longs to raise enough money to send for his wife and two kids. Liudas is especially fond of his eldest son, whom he talks about constantly to Gaspar. To help expedite the process, Gaspar offers Liudas 75% of the proceeds from their business. But, as time progresses, Gaspar becomes suspicious that Liudas may be swindling him. Does he even have a son? A misheard conversation and Gaspar's own paranoia lead to murder.
After the dastardly deed is done, Gaspar discovers that not only was Liudas on the level (the son shows up on schedule), but Liudas' own platonic affection for Gaspar was as strong as the neurotic Gaspar had hoped. Even more emotionally devastating for Gaspar is learning how the younger Liudas comes pre-packaged with a similar admiration, thanks to the letters his father wrote him about his "only true friend" Gaspar. In the conversations Gaspar has with the deceased Liudas, which serve as narration and provide plot details, Gaspar sounds more than a little guilty about what he's done. But that guilt takes a backseat to self-preservation.
That feeling hits us full force in the film's pitch black, title-explaining final sequence. We're torn between wanting Gaspar's comeuppance and his escape. I won't tell you if he gets away or not, but Cores plays his last scene with more relief than resignation. Between the lines, Gaspar's final act reads as one of the darkest character reunions in all of noir, a literal happy ending for Liudas' son juxtaposed with a more subjective ending that depends on the viewer's perspective to decide how happy it is for Gaspar.
What at first seems like a male-centric piece is slowly inhabited by more and more female characters, each with their own strength and importance. Dagmar is a bit of an enigma at first, but as the film progresses, we learn so much about her emotional state and her own trials and tribulations in life and love. There's also the matter of Alex, Dagmar's true love and the one that appeared to have gotten away.
The husband begins the exploration, but it's his wife who digs more deeply into the mystery, revealing her own maternal moment with Dagmar as a piece in the puzzle.
The wife also gets the film's last line, which is revelatory and powerful for reasons I dare not disclose. Suffice it to say, it reveals who Alex is, and the answer is surprisingly progressive. The wife's decision to keep this detail to herself is a quiet, haunting tribute to dignity.
Deep emotions are usually in short supply in Noir City--baser, more primal and animalistic urges usually rule the day and control the action. These two brilliant, international noirs force the audience to identify not with greed and lust but with more complicated, deeper desires of wanting to be loved and respected. They push us under the fun surface level of ruthlessness, forcing us stare down matters of the broken heart and the fragile psyche. Perhaps that's the coldest thing any movie can do to you here in Noir City.
Next time: Bette vs. Joan, and Bogie Goes Bonkers.