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Desamores

Spiffy Puerto Rican made-for-TV <I>noir</I> with a black private eye as hero, "Desamores" brings some nice ironic class tensions back into the genre. Light, somewhat gimmicky presentation hovers over the uglier aspects of the beautiful people as the cynical detective walks a thin line between a corrupt plutocracy and a psychopathic criminal underclass on the streets of San Juan.

Spiffy Puerto Rican made-for-TV noir with a black private eye as hero, based on the novel “Desamores” by political writer Wilfredo Mattos-Cintron, brings some nice ironic class tensions back into the genre. Light, somewhat gimmicky presentation — filled with mini-zooms, imagined reconstructions, charged glances, snide innuendoes and rote thug-administered beatings — hovers over the uglier aspects of the beautiful people as the cynical detective walks a thin line between a corrupt plutocracy and a psychopathic criminal underclass on the streets of San Juan. Enjoyable, if minor, tip of the hat to Chandler, Hammett, Mosley, et al., could attract wide Hispanic TV auds.

Modesto Lacen as P.I. Isabelo Andujar may not give Humphrey Bogart a run for his money, but his laid-back, faintly amused distaste for rich, bitchy men and women, his unflappable, been-around rapport with colorful cons named “Big” or “Little Death” and his true appreciation for colleagues and working stiffs definitely make him a worthy addition to the gumshoe fraternity.

When an affluent thirtysomething couple who own a flourishing insurance business are killed along with three of their employees in an apparent heist where nothing is taken, rumors run rampant. Hired by the dead woman’s stepfather to clear her name, Isabelo soon is dining in ritzy restaurants, sipping Appletinis on luxuriant patios or shooting pool in well-appointed dens while the dead couple’s best friends drop hints about possible infidelities. It seems all the men were drawn to the late Lourdes and all the women were jealous.

A flashback to a table full of the prime suspects at a nightclub finds loaded glances madly ricocheting around the room as the camera isolates, pairs or opposes characters in constantly changing groupings.

Isabelo’s search leads him to an assassin whose hands shake so badly that he can’t light a cigarette, a late-arriving bordello doppelganger of the slain woman (shades of “Vertigo”) and a whole rogues’ gallery of the loveless (the titular “desamores”) from both the upper and lower echelons of society.

Even when the case is solved, some leftover characters who don’t otherwise fit in lead to a nasty little capitalist coda. Yet, throughout, perhaps because of the spaciousness and beauty of the San Juan through which helmer Edmundo H. Rodriguez moves his central character, there is a sense of vitality in the streets and the corners of the city that defies the corruption and pettiness of its mansion-dwelling denizens.

Tech credits are crude but intriguing, particularly Demetrio Fernandez Manzano’s lensing use of transparent “effects” in a playful, lightly postmodern and very TV-familiar spin on the process of deduction.

Desamores

Puerto Rico

  • Production: A Puerto Rico Film Commission, Tu Universo Television, Propaganda production. Produced by Luis H. Collazo. Directed by Edmundo H. Rodriguez. Screenplay, Gilberto A. Rodriguez, from the novel by Wilfredo Mattos-Cintron.
  • Crew: Camera (color, 24P DV), Demetrio Fernandez Manzano; editor, Augustin Rexach Martin; music, Carlos Rafael Camunas; costumes, Gloria Saez; sound, Walter Santaliz. Reviewed at African Diaspora Film Festival, Dec. 2, 2005. Running time: 107 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Modesto Lacen, Yamaris Latorre, Braulio Castillo Jr., Ernesto Concepcion, Jackeline Duprey, Sandra Teres, Axel Anderson, Yezmin Luzzed, Raul Carbonel Jr.
  • Music By: