As I watched the opening 10 minutes of this film with budding fascination, a maniacal lynching sequence and a torrid depiction of Ecuador starts to take shape. Slowly the set pieces are positioned amidst the self-possessed ethos of the crowd, with Manolo Bonilla (John Leguizamo) being the sidestepping knight along side his gutsy rook, Ivan Suarez (Jose Maria Yazpik) who rushes headlong into the mob on a mere command, while their queen, Marisa Iturralde (Leonor Watling) is being kept out of harm's way by the men. But this television crew is in essence, just pawns to the machinations of the news medias escalating demands.
Bonilla dithers on the sidelines until he finally intervenes. All Im reminded of is the tragic circumstances surrounding the award winning South African photojournalist, Kevin Carter when he snapped the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of a emaciated Sudanese girl being descended upon by a ravenous vulture. He later described himself as yet another vulture, a predator in the midst of suffering. Crnicas is a depressingly cynical look at the state of affairs in a third-world nation and the ersatz concerns that the foreign news media shows in order to exploit its people. Everything that is done carries with it the terrible feeling of ulteriorities as a faux smile and a warm handshake (sometimes tucked in with a bit of cash) manipulates situations and opens doors that should have stayed closed. It is very much an unforgiving indictment on the news media and its dogged pursuit of a ratings goldmine.
Threading on the same lines as Network, it crosses its fictitious coverage with a compelling thriller involving the Monstruo de Babahoyo (Monster of Babahoyo), a serial killer who has raped and murdered over a 150 young children. Bonilla, a self-involved tabloid television reporter and his crew belong to a Spanish language news network stationed in Miami that airs throughout Latin America. He walks about with a swagger, signing autographs and stays on the sidelines waiting for the right moment to turn on the spotlight. But hes not a hack by any sense of the word. He understands that duplicity is an asset in his line of work, a tool to dig out the information he needs. In this case, he wants to uncover the identity of the Monster for a scoop of a lifetime and potentially his own show. Leguizamo gives the best performance of the cast in his understated portrayal of a well-worn reporter haunted by his guilt and questioning the price of his celebrity. And thats saying plenty considering that every performance in this Foreign Oscar submission by Ecuador is worth its own weight in dramatic gold.
With the backdrop of rampant institutional corruption and those only too willing to exploit it, it paints a harsh and gritty landscape of living in a country of poverty and injustice where everyone has slippery fingers when it comes to the truth. Its further amplified with a strong sense of visual authenticity, which does not accentuate the grungy dwelling areas, the shantytown slums and frenzied lawlessness of communal disagreements, but instead captures it with an unattached verite style technique.
Director Sebastin Cordro peels back the layers of verisimilitude to slowly reveal the grim, unsettling actualities of his thriller. It shocks and daringly pushes the boundaries of audiences in some ghastly scenes. He constantly pounds us with the ethical dilemmas of journalism such as the validity and protection of sources, the emotional involvement with subjects and brokering of deals that have more to do personal gain than journalistic integrity. The more complicit that Bonilla and his crew become, the more they lose of their conscience. The throwaway lines in particular, divulges much about the inner workings of television journalism and network politics. The conversations between subject and interviewer pose the most perplexity and intrigue, as their insinuations and silence reveal more than words ever could.