Imagine “Training Day” without the bloodshed and with the action transposed from L.A. to B.A. (Buenos Aires); that’s the starting point for “El Bonaerense,” the sophomore effort from talented Argentine director Pablo Trapero, whose first film, the very small-scale “Crane World,” found support on the fest route a couple of years ago. Proving that his debut was no fluke, Trapero goes one better with this probing look at a naive man from a small town who joins the notorious bonaerence, the B.A. police force. Not exactly a police corruption thriller, the film is more a study of innocence betrayed, though its insights into Argentine law enforcement are pretty scary. Further fest exposure, plus quality TV skedding, are in the cards.
Like the protagonist of “Crane World,” Trapero’s central character is adrift. Enrique Mendoza, nicknamed Zapa (Jorge Roman), is a 32-year-old locksmith who has lived all his life in a small provincial town. He works for the shifty Polaco (Hugo Anganuzzi), who occasionally gets him to work outside the law.
When he’s arrested for one of these crimes, his uncle, who has been, until recent retirement, chief of police in the town, intervenes. He pulls some strings to get his disgraced nephew released, provided he leaves town. Pulling in more favors, the uncle gets him a job with the bonaerence in the capital city.
Zapa arrives in B.A. like a babe in the woods. Completely ignorant of big city life, he has nowhere to stay, so he sleeps on the street for a while. But, as ordered, he reports to inspector Molinari (Victor Hugo Carrizo), who accepts him into the police training program, even though he’s over the maximum age for the job. Changing Zapa’s papers to make him under 30 is just the first of many examples of police rule bending and corruption the young country bumpkin witnesses.
Training ensues, with Zapa proving to be a maladroit pupil. But his fresh-faced charm gets him into the bed of a female instructor, Mabel (Mimi Arduh), to the envy of his mates. Before long, Zapa is befriended by Molinai’s superior, detective-inspector Gallo (Dario Levy). Gallo lends Zapa his own gun, and claims to see the young man as potential material for promotion, though it’s pretty clear that he has another agenda.
The film, shot in harsh, brutal color, paints a most unflattering picture of the B.A. police, who are prone to drunkenness, brutality, violence and corruption. However, the film doesn’t set out to be an expose, but rather to chart the journey of its credulous hero through an alien and hostile world.
Roman is particularly good at convincingly portraying the innocent at large whose gradual corruption is the theme of the film. Among the supporting cast, Levy’s tough, manipulative Gallo is a standout. Location shooting in shabby sections of the city succeeds in giving the film a backdrop of stark realism. Moments of humor relieve the grim nature of this provocative and gripping drama.