The most striking moment in Luis Ortega's El Angel comes early, during what most movies would make into a tense clockwork heist. "I look like my mom when she was young," declares Carlos (Lorenzo Ferro), the criminal protagonist of Ortega's vivid, upsetting Argentine ripped-from-history crime drama. The young man states this while regarding himself in a mirror -- wearing a pair of dazzling earrings -- in a Buenos Aires jewelry shop he's broken into in 1971. His mom, you'll likely conclude, must have been a true beauty: Teen Carlos may be a thief and a killer, but he has the face and curls of a Botticelli cherub, his pouty eyes and plump lips and touched with sublimity. Criminal partner Ramon (Chino Darin), who often sputters out performative homophobic slurs, is briefly as struck as Carlos -- or viewers. Slowly, teasingly, like a lover revealing himself, he pulls out his gun, staring into the mirror with Carlos. Carlos does the same.
El Angel is a crime spree as improvised reverie, one whose subject is as quick to give away his loot as the director is to make the subtext explicit. It's not the rise and fall narrative we so often get in films about famous crooks; Carlos Robledo Puch, instead, merely dicks around -- stealing, occasionally killing -- 'till he's caught for good. Ortega and Ferro portray this gorgeous sociopath as utterly disaffected, a young man turned on mostly by desires he can't quite articulate, even to other criminals. He steals and even kills not out of a lust for material goods but out of something more like a turned-on boredom.