“Gay noir” only begins to describe Burnt Money. Yes, you might consider it neo-noir, a decade removed from Reservoir Dogs: a postmodern bastard child of the classic film noirs of the World War II era, crime pictures typified if not epitomized by Double Indemnity (1944). Burnt Money betrays a deep family resemblance to these movies that lies buried beneath its mid-1960s Argentine features. There are antiheroes, murderous crimes and a femme fatale — and, more profoundly, obsession, madness and doom.
But Burnt Money is unique. Though its plot is divided into three chapters (“The Facts,” “The Voices” and “Burnt Money”), unlike Pulp Fiction (1994), this is one story told linearly from beginning to end. In the first chapter, a narrator introduces us to our antiheroes, El Nene (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and Angel (Eduardo Noriega, The Devil’s Backbone, Open Your Eyes), not in the hardboiled manner of Dashiell Hammett’s (The Maltese Falcon) or Raymond Chandler’s (The Big Sleep) pulp detectives, but as if telling a dark fairy tale: “They bumped into each other in the station toilets where Nene used to go for sex.”
Nene is “the stray black sheep” who looks “as if he’d been in jail longer than he had really been.” Angel has a “heavy quiet,” always seeing “bad things that got in his way.” Fontana (Ricardo Bartis) teams them up for a heist with driver Oscar Di Pasquo aka El Cuervo (Pablo Echarri) who lines up his powdered sedatives with his driver’s license and snorts them to maintain “a quiet vision of life.”
The heist is ill-fated. Angel is shot by a cop whom Nene then kills. In the second chapter, the trio take it on the lam from Buenos Aires to Montevideo where they “bury” themselves in a hideout until the heat is off. Here Nene, sick of laying low, meets Giselle (Leticia Brédice) in a disco. She does what femme fatales do: acts as an agent of betrayal.
Burnt Money is profoundly ironic — even for a film noir. As irony it operates, the way literary critic Northrop Frye has described, as a parody of romance, those tales of dragon slaying, questing saviors. Screenwriter-director Marcelo Piñeyro paints Angel as a beautiful antichrist in El Greco colors and Rembrandt shadows. The crucifix on his gold chain taps against the wooden floor as he does push-ups. As Nene sits next to him wiping the gore from his gunshot wound, the image is a homoerotic pietà with Nene and Angel displacing the Virgin Mary cleaning Christ’s wounds. Angel shoots heroin like a sacrament. He hears voices like a criminal Joan of Arc.
But this is also a romance in a more common sense between two men who are so close they are known as “the Twins.” But unlike the homosexual characters of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (as in his Law of Desire), the relationship is a chaste one: Angel’s “semen is sacred. He won’t give it to Nene.”
Though the dialogue and narration sometimes verge on a pulpy version of Pablo Neruda’s poetry, Burnt Money transubstantiates bullets and blood into something that may be love.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at firstname.lastname@example.org.