FILM REVIEW:A Common Crime (Un Crimen Comun) – The BFI London Film Festival 2020

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writers: Tomás Downey and Francisco Márquez

Director: Francisco Márquez

Female-led narratives have been a big focus at the London Film Festival in recent years, and this new film from Argentinian writers Tomás Downey and Francisco Márquez places a very ordinary woman at the heart of their film, A Common Crime (Un Crimen Comun), exploring loneliness, the supernatural and hinting at the effects of depression.

Teacher and single-mother Cecilia is living quietly with her son when one stormy night a strange man batters at her door. Ignoring the late-night caller, Cecilia is spooked again when she later hears that the body of her housekeeper’s son has been found in the river, and alone at home, she starts to imagine that she is not alone.

Director Maquez creates suspense in the film in several ways, primarily using the camera to track Cecilia’s movements as she investigates the noises in her home, following her through rooms with a horror-movie attempt to build tension. At other times, the camera remains stationary as Cecilia disappears from view, through gauzy curtains that leave the viewer to anticipate whether she will return.

Downey and Marquez create this light unease by contrasting it with the ordinariness of her life in the daylight, routines of school and home life where the various bumps and squeaks that scare her at night are shown to be harmless. There is a melancholy to Cecilia’s experience that asks whether her imagination is running away with her.

The central performance suggests a hidden trauma that continues to affect the mother-of-one which she takes care to hide from her son but seems to shape her distracted and slightly anxious engagement with the world. And while this is all very competently created there is a certain ponderousness to the approach that even an hour into this 95-minute drama leaves the audience unsure about its focus.

The subplot about police brutality is peripheral to Cecilia’s own perspective even though she is emotionally affected by it, and the mysterious job application she is submitting through her school and the night-time disturbances take too long to build to anything conclusive. It leaves the final portion of the film rather lacking in direct plot as Downey and Marquez try to do something with their enjoyable but rather languorous story.

Elisa Carricajo’s gives a strong performance as a woman slowly unravelling, showing how Cecilia begins to fray at the edges moving from a calm and competent professional to someone carrying a significant burden as the evening disturbances and effects of her housekeeper’s family subtly inflame her paranoia. And while we never really understand why, by the end of the film Carricajo shows her exhaustion and the weight of whatever she is carrying that starts to affect her behaviour.

Tonally, the film can’t decide whether it is a light horror or a piece of social realism and it never explains why Cecilia feels so unnerved. But the intimacy of the central character’s perspective is a strong one, holding your attention and creating empathy for her unexplained difficulties and there is still a value in seeing a female narrative built around a complex emotional landscape.

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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