Director: Francisco Márquez 
Screenplay: Tomás Downey,  Francisco Márquez 
Starring: Elisa Carricajo, Mecha Martinez, Eliot Otazo
Year: 2020
Duration: 96 min
Country: Argentina 
BBFC Certification: 12

What would you do if someone you barely knew came banging on your front door in the middle of the night, desperate to be let in? Would you let them enter or would you pretend you haven’t heard them and wait for them to go away? While some of the more altruistic among us would fling open the door, I think the majority of people would fall prey to the latter option, hiding and praying that the person will leave as soon as possible. It is exactly this kind of dilemma, a situation that anyone of us could find ourselves in, that lies at the heart of Argentinian director Francisco Márquez’s A Common Crime.

Márquez’s previous films have focused on the socio-economic divide in Argentina (including the 2015 documentary Después de Sarmiento) so it might not be a surprise to discover that the fateful decision made in A Common Crime by Cecilia (Elisa Carricajo), a middle class university lecturer, is laced with political undertones. It is not just a random person she chooses not to help; it is the son of her maid, Nebe. In an early scene, she meets Nebe’s son when he arrives at her house to collect a table. He comes across as polite and mild mannered, with Cecilia more than happy to allow him access to her bedroom to pick up the piece of furniture. Yet this openly relaxed attitude all but evaporates when he turns up shouting and hammering on her front door a few nights later. He appears scared, almost terrified, as if someone is after him. Cecilia does not let him in, instead cowering behind a window as she waits for him to disappear. The next day, she discovers that her actions have had tragic consequences. Cecilia’s guilt begins to gnaw away at her with ever increasing ferocity, but will she have the courage to confront Nebe and tell her what she has done? 

A Common Crime gradually unfolds before it arrives at its pivotal moment. The opening is slow and relaxed, with Márquez steadily introducing us to Cecilia and the world she inhabits. It is a world that feels small and secure, yet lonely. A friend she is with in the opening scene is mainly kept off camera and even her relationship with her son feels oddly distant. It is telling that her closest relationship seems to be with Nebe herself. The intimate, almost tranquil tone of the opening is underscored by the film’s light and natural look. By shooting in the Academy aspect ratio, Márquez ensures that the everyday details he captures feel informal and personal. Later on, that framing will begin to feel increasingly claustrophobic.

Márquez slowly begins to undermine the calm atmosphere he has initially established as he charts Cecilia’s gradual disintegration. An atmosphere of increasing tension malevolently pervades the latter half of the film, as Cecilia’s guilt begins to manifest itself in encroaching paranoia. Márquez captures these moments in a style more reminiscent of a horror film, complete with creaking floorboards and mysterious whispering voices. Even scenes of calm and beauty, such as sunlight filtering through a green canopy of trees, begins to take on a nightmarish, surreal quality (helped in part by the unsettling, discordant soundtrack). At moments like this, A Common Crime becomes something rather unique; a intimate human drama shot through the lens of a thriller, where two genres meld together to create something that feels refreshingly different.

Márquez, with great skill, continually constructs powerful moments out of seemingly simple set-ups. In one moment, the tone of the film completely changes within a single shot, as the camera pans from Cecilia getting her son ready for school to a tragic news report playing on the TV. At other points, Márquez is confident enough in his compositions to let scenes play out in single, beautifully composed takes…Cecilia’s house left in a frozen state of disarray after Nebe has suddenly left…Cecilia sitting alone with her thoughts in a cafe, an orange sunset caught in a glassy reflection…Cecilia trapped on a bridge, gradually swallowed by smoke as chaos blooms around her… Márquez continually manages to infuse A Common Crime with moments linger in the memory. 

He is helped along the way by a consistently believable performance from Elisa Carricajo. Appearing in every scene, A Common Crime’s success rests on her shoulders above all others and she manages to deliver a quietly powerful performance that skilfully charts the progression of guilt and shame that begins to dissolve the normality of Cecilia’s life. Her performance throughout is beautifully controlled and measured, with more than a hint of Lady Macbeth’s similarly guilt-fuelled descent into madness, witnessed in a scene where she lets half chewed food suddenly fall out of her mouth. It is unclear how much sympathy we are eventually meant to have for Cecilia, but Carricajo’s humane portrayal ensures that our own loyalties remain in a constant state of flux.

While the pivotal moment at the heart of A Common Crime can easily be read as a metaphor of how the middle class ignore the poor and less fortunate in their hour of need, it also depicts a universal type of scenario, where a mistake is made in the heat of the moment. Thanks to Carricajo’s performance and Márquez’s cinematic technique and melding of genres, A Common Crime is a dark and unsettling character study that works just as well outside of its director’s political interests as it does within it. While the pace may occasionally be slow and the resolution more opaque than many would wish for, A Common Crime nevertheless remains a powerfully effective and ruminative exploration of an emotion that none of us wish to experience, but may unfortunately find ourselves encountering more often than we’d like to think possible.

A Common Crime will be available digitally from 9th April on Amazon, iTunes, Google, Microsoft, Chili, Vimeo on Demand,  BFI Player and Virtual Cinemas include Home, Rio Cinema and Rich Mix. 

A Common Crime
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