A Common Crime: A curious, delicate ghost story

Review: This Argentine drama is an understated portrait of class and guilt

A Common Crime
    
Director: Francisco Márquez
Cert: Club
Genre: Mystery
Starring: Elisa Carricajo, Mecha Martínez, Cecilia Rainero, Eliot Otazo, Ciro Coien Pardo
Running Time: 1 hr 36 mins

This understated Argentine drama marries class division, trauma and things that go bump in the night. The heroine, Cecilia (a brilliantly distracted Elisa Carricajo), is an academic whose privilege is writ large in conversations about Foucault’s The Order of Things, lectures about Althusser, and close-up cinematography that doubles as a visual bourgeois bubble.

A single mother, Cecilia is raising her young son Juan (Ciro Coien Pardo) with the assistance of Nebe (Mecha Martínez), her housekeeper. Late one night, Nebe’s teenage son Kevin (Eliot Otazo) bangs on Cecilia’s door begging for assistance. She cowers and fails to answer.

When Kevin is found drowned, believed to have been murdered by police, Cecilia is soon troubled by small, strange occurrences. A photocopy of her driving licence comes out blurred, despite the attendant’s insistence that the toner in the machine was recently replaced. Clothes, not unlike those worn by Kevin, appear on the ground outside. A racing car set bought for Juan’s birthday seems to turn on when no one is around. Are these things a result of guilt and paranoia? Or is something supernatural at play?

Abel Tortorelli’s spooky sound design suggests the latter. The subtle script for A Common Crime (Un Crimen Común), co-written by director Francisco Márquez and Tomás Downey, evokes such hifalutin conceits as Gramsci’s Philosophy of Praxis, adding intellectual texture to the intrigue.


The “haunting” has clear parallels with the many thousands who “disappeared” during Argentina’s dictatorship. Two key scenes – Cecilia’s visit to the labyrinthine, no-go “barrio” where Nebe lives, and a trip to the graveyard – are as unnerving as they are enigmatic.

The film is bookended by fairground rides, suggesting a political obliviousness, but this slow (rather too slow), delicate ghost story refuses to go full-Babadook or to trumpet its meanings and intentions. That can make for frustrating viewing, but A Common Crime is a fine curio.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic