Scherzo Diabolico (2015)

First published by TwitchFilm

“You need a strong grip,” Aram (Francisco Barreiro, all restraint behind his big moustache) is told by gangster client Mendez, whom he has just saved from going to prison. Aram works hard, while his often absent boss Granovsky reaps all the benefits. “Always late, and never getting a raise,” as Aram’s dismissive, distant wife says of the meticulous accountant. Yet Aram has a plan. A plan that involves seeking advice on choking from Mendez and the internet, practising strangleholds on his own Alzheimer’s-afflicted father, learning the most effective methods of hog-tying from a prostitute he regularly visits, and stalking a teenaged girl as she walks home from school every day. Once Aram has ruthlessly executed this plan, his life will take several steps up – but the CD of ‘All-Time Piano Classics’ that he had played to calm himself and to calibrate his actions may also orchestrate the unravelling of everything that he has built.

Adrían García Bogliano’s Scherzo Diabolico may be bookended with Charles-Valentin Alkan’s piano étude of the same devilish name, but it is Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, played recurrently in the film, that will come (like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in A Clockwork Orange) to dominate, modulate and ironise everything, its jauntiness introducing a note of dark Coen-esque comedy, and its ring compositional form reflecting the table-turning symmetries to come.

Occasionally putting juddery drone-mounted cameras to stylised use to keep viewers at a God-like remove from all the unfolding moral horror, Bogliano, like Aram, manages the film’s events with a rigorously methodical control that shoves violence and depravity away into the distance or the dark – but the repressed will eventually reemerge with a bloody, bludgeoning vengeance.

As a thriller Scherzo Diabolico is well-tempered and taut, parcelling out its narrative information in much the same way that Aram compartmentalises the different aspects of his life. Yet it is as an Oedipal drama, where the tragic trajectory of one person’s rise comes only with the destruction of the boss/father, that Bogliano’s film finds its strongest (and subtlest) sociopolitical grip. This may be a dog-eat-dog world, but in Bogliano’s bleakly passive-aggressive vision, once the questionable justice starts being meted out by proxy, the collateral damage spreads like a plague of mice. The results are finely-tuned perfection.

Anton Bitel