They called 1970s Argentinian serial killer Carlos Robledo Puch “The Angel of Death” because of his angelic, teen idol looks and a habit of murdering people in their sleep. He was also by some accounts, queer—which director Luis Ortega runs with in his fictionalized, subversively comic telling of Puch’s story in the Martin Scorsese-esque crime drama, El Angel.
Produced by gay Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar and co-written by Ortega and Rodolfo Palacios, El Angel sees a sexually ambiguous, swaggering Buenos Aires 17-year-old with bee-stung lips and curly blonde locks, Carlitos (Lorenzo Ferro), become smitten with a hunky delinquent, Ramon (Chino Darin). When the pair joins forces for a series of robberies, the situation degenerates into a full-fledged murder spree, and Carlitos turns celebrity.
The Argentina-born Ortega spoke with NewNowNext via email about making what has been described as a “queer Bonnie And Clyde”—which his country has submitted for Best Foreign Language Film for the 91st Academy Awards—and the real Puch, now 46 years into his life sentence in prison.
Lorenzo, a newcomer, is so perfect in the role. How did he feel about playing such a psychopath and did he get method about it?
It was really fun for him. He had a license to do whatever he wanted, even off-camera. He stole from me several times! The character believes everything is bullshit and that God must be somewhere laughing at us. Actually, he thinks life is a film, so he’s always acting, playing a part. Killing people is part of an act and the dying are playing their part, but it’s all a joke. He’s convinced that’s how it goes. That’s why he looks like a psychopath, but we never thought of it that way. It’s just crazy being a kid.
Has the real Carlitos, Carlos Robledo Puch, seen the film yet, and does he know about its submission to the Oscars?
No, he hasn’t, because he’s in jail and the movie just came out. But I know he wants to kill the main actor. He probably does know about the Oscars. I never spoke to him, though. But this movie is a very free interpretation of something that happened in 1970 and nothing like a biopic. It’s our Bonnie and Clyde.
In a director’s statement, you admitted to being drawn to criminality since your youth. Did you ever find yourself personally attracted to Puch—his looks or crimes or both?
Not really. He did look good though. Everybody was in love with his body and now everyone is in love with the actor, Lorenzo. But time and jail did their job and in the present moment, Puch looks like shit. I also think violent people turn ugly, and after all those killings, that ugliness hit him hard.
To your knowledge, how does the real Puch identify sexually? Has he ever proclaimed himself gay or bisexual?
There are a lot of stories. I know some people that have done time with him and they told me he was raped en masse. I know he’s in the gay area of the prison and that he’s had some husbands. At this moment, he lives with a transvestite in the same cell.
Did you consider making Carlitos and Ramon’s relationship even more explicitly romantic or sexual?
Totally. Love is something very powerful, and it doesn’t need [sexual] penetration. The one great sex scene I remember most is in Fassbinder’s Querelle. But I’m not a big fan of sex scenes, or having the characters do ordinary things, like go to the bathroom or have breakfast or whatever it is that we all do.
How did Pedro Almodovar influence the film, if at all? Did he have any specific notes or thoughts you found interesting or helpful?
No. We talked for the first time at Cannes, and we just got back from the San Sebastian Film Festival where we had a really good time. He sat through the whole movie for the fourth time.
When was the last time you saw Lorenzo, by the way, and do people recognize him as “Carlitos” a lot in Argentina?
Oh, he can’t walk down the street anymore. Not like before.