Sangre en la boca

Crítica de Pablo Suárez - Buenos Aires Herald

Ramón Alvia (Leonardo Sbaraglia) is at odds with his life. He’s a professional boxer about to turn 40, and though he’s won many international championships that have given him a rewarding advantage in his profession, it’s easy to see that he’s now at the end of his career. And he’s having a very hard time accepting it. He may well pretend he’s satisfied, but you can tell he’s not. Case in point: his family wants him to retire for good and work at a store his wife wishes to open and he couldn’t care less.
One day at the gym where he trains, Ramón spots a new boxer: a young woman of striking looks named Deborah (Eva de Dominici) who wants to learn all there is to learn in order to become a great boxer. Of course, it doesn’t take her long to notice Ramón as well. First they engage in small talk and do some training together. But soon enough they fall for each other, which ultimately gives way to a tempestuous romance where love and hate are the two sides of the same coin.
And it makes sense: Ramón feels he’s still quite young and can’t deal with the fact he’s not. So having Deborah in his life makes him feel he’s recovered all the strength he needs to fight for yet another world championship. In his eyes, being unfaithful to his wife and neglecting his duties as a family man is not that high a price to pay. If he only knew what was to come next.
Sangre en la boca is Argentine filmmaker Hernán Belón’s second fiction film, El campo (2011) being the first one, also starring Leonardo Sbaraglia in the leading role. And whereas El campo had a great sense of atmosphere and finely calibrated performances but a rather sluggish and minimalist narrative, Sangre en la boca is narrated with brio and effectiveness; it also features remarkable acting and the scenario it portrays does feel quite real for the most part.
But make no mistake, Sangre en la boca is not strictly a boxing film, but rather a passionate love story between two boxers, which at times verges on melodrama — and rightly so. In this sense, one of the film’s assets is the hot sex scenes between Sbaraglia and De Dominici, shot with plenty of eros and good taste by famed cinematographer Bill Nieto, who also does a very good job in depicting the pulse and frenzy of the boxing scenes in the ring. By the way, the meticulous sound design by Hernán Gerard and the well-paced editing by Natalie Cristiani are also essential for creating the gripping atmosphere.
Sbaraglia and De Dominici deliver believable performances and sensibly add layers to characters that are otherwise somewhat underwritten. But, most importantly, they have great chemistry together, so it’s easy to believe how deeply and madly in love and lust they are. What’s not that easy to buy is the relationship Ramón has with his wife, a truly underdeveloped character who is more of a script tool than anything else. The process of their breaking-up is merely sketched, it needs more scenes to be properly told, and it shouldn’t be taken so lightly. There’s a lot of drama there that’s left unexplored.
In this sense, the relationship between Ramón and Deborah also has some very visible narrative flaws that lessen its impact, but not to that large a degree. For instance, the transitions from love to hate, and hate to love, and back to love to hate, are not too well oiled. The changes come about too abruptly even for two lovers whose moods swing quickly. And some scenes — such as the violent fight the couple has at a restaurant — are just too trite.
Despite its narrative unevenness, Sangre en la boca is accomplished in formal terms and production values, and it’s entertaining for the most part. It could have used some more depth into such rich dramatic potential, but that would have been a different movie. As is, its achievements effortlessly overcome its flaws.
Production notes
Sangre en la boca (Argentina, 2015). Directed by Hernán Belón. Written by Hernán Belón and Marcelo Pitrola, based on the short story of the same name by Milagros Socorro. With Leonardo Sbaraglia, Eva De Dominici, Erica Bianchi, Claudio Rissi, Osmar Nuñez, Cinematography: Bill Nieto. Editing: Natalie Cristiani. Running time: 97 minutes.