This piece contains spoilers for 2018 Argentine film ‘El Ángel’. Read at your own risk.
“My mother couldn’t conceive until the doctor said to her: ‘Go on and pray to God, ma’am. He gives to the world what the world needs. So here I am. Straight from heaven, a spy for God.” If biblical mythos says that Satan was the most beautiful angel before the fall, the parallelism is clear in the voiceover that introduces us to the main character Carlitos (Lorenzo Ferro), the pouty tousle-haired sociopath at the center of Argentine director Luis Ortega’s El Ángel. As he talks, Carlitos meanders an opulent house he just broke into, before proceeding to dance to La Joven Guardia’s classic track “El extraño de pelo largo.” He leaves the house toting a few gold chains taken from a night stand, a motorcycle, and a handful of records.
Taking inspiration from the true story of Argentine serial killer and the continent’s longest-serving prisoner Carlos Robledo Puch, the film follows a young man with a penchant for theft in ’70s Buenos Aires before he quickly spirals into a prolific, cold-blooded killer. The music in this film, near-Scorsesian in its execution and timing, is an exploration of Argentina in the ’60s and ’70s that’s as steeped in rock nacional deep cuts as it is in the tango.
The soundtrack is rife with references to Argentine rock predecessors, such as La Pesada del Rock and Roll and Pappo (although fellow pioneer and rock nacional heavyweight Luis Alberto Spinetta is noticeably absent), as well as softer cuts by way of tango grandmaster Astor Piazzola and lite-rocker Heleno. In its review, The New York Times stated the film lacked depth and blamed it for not criticizing Carlitos’ murderous instincts and amorality, and instead exploiting them for aesthetics – this takes away from the sounds that help guide the film along, the anthems of revolution made in response to the dictatorship that held Argentina in its grasp.
But the eloquent dance between the escalating murder spree, and the soundtrack provides a music video-like narrative that helps move the film along at a perfect pace.
Below, we break down the “El Ángel” soundtrack, and walk you through this robust, hedonistic time in music that molded the mind of a young man who would become one of the most infamous criminals in Argentine history.
A jangly 1968 hit that catapulted these highly underrated pioneers of Argentine rock to stardom serves as Carlitos’ signature song. Our introduction to the character (and our farewell), this funk-tinged storm of bass, guitar, and tambourine layered with floaty ’70s-era vocals blares from a turntable in a house he just broke into and, at the end, from a small radio minutes before his final arrest. A massive throwback that frames the movie, it also frames its psychotic lead character: as unhinged and free as the era he inhabits.
Heavy guitar pervades this deep cut from legendary frontman Pappo’s second record with his eponymous band Pappo’s Blues. Released in 1971, this hopeful hard rock anthem sets the scene for Carlitos’ first robbery in conjunction best friend/ associate Ramón Peralta (Chino Darín) and his father José (Daniel Fanego). One can’t help but notice how the aggression of the track tinges the scene, an aggressive call for peace during a mass firearms robbery that leaves the deadly triad of thieves with bountiful supplies for future crimes.
La Pesada del Rock and Roll
La Pesada Del Rock and Roll are considered quintessential to Argentine rock, with lead singer Billy Bond highly regarded as a pioneer in the genre. This eclectic track, a psychedelic call to protest and unity over a sensual chugging bassline with reverb throughout, puts listeners into a trance. Played briefly in Carlitos’ first meeting with the Peralta family in their basement, and shortly before he shoots his first gun, it turns a song of hope into the spine-chilling ushering of a new crime ring.
Lite-rocker and ballad singer Heleno’s career had a late start, then he faded into obscurity. He’s most remembered for this upbeat ’70s pop rock ballad bolstered by strings and an electric bass. A tender love song about becoming enamored by a woman he sees through the window of a boutique store on the streets of Buenos Aires, this lighter cut plays low on the car radio before Carlitos and Ramón get pulled over by the police for interrogation.
One of the strangest voices in Argentine pop rock soundtracks one of Carlitos’ escapes into the city following a failed heist with an art dealer. The sweeping violin solo that makes up the reprise and tinge of electric guitar make for an elegant and upbeat song about lost love, with Leonardo Favio bemoaning a sadness that only belongs to him. One might wonder what that says about Carlitos, who later in the film will cry alone on a crowded train after narrowly escaping prison.
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As Carlitos sets fire to a getaway car, music buffs will recognize the familiar twang of the guitar, a refrain that couldn’t be anything other than classic ballad “House of the Rising Sun.” Made famous by early British rockers The Animals in ‘64, this faithful cover by Palito Ortega, whose ‘60s hit “Corazón contento” is also featured in the film, reframes the song as a lovelorn ballad rather than a tale of woe down in New Orleans. It makes it no less haunting, especially when playing in the fore of a car on fire and a criminal on the loose. The song follows Carlitos from the getaway car to Ramón’s arms.
One can’t talk about the history of music in Argentina without mentioning tango, and one can’t speak of tango without mentioning legendary composer Astor Piazzola. A segment of one of his most famous and haunting pieces, composed in ‘65, can be heard as Carlitos walks alone to the jewelry store he robbed alongside Ramón, whom he killed in a car crash meant to end them both. Completely alone, he meanders the store seeking material wealth with a shattered soul to the tune of Piazzola’s famed bandoneon, which turns out to be blasting from a small radio next to a sleeping guard, another of Carlitos’ many victims.