Reviewed by Roger Gook

The film Charcoal shown at Keswick Film Club last Sunday looks at a simple moral quandary — would you put an infirm elderly person out of their misery for the right price? Irene spends her days tending to her invalid father Firmino, as well as her layabout husband and young son. She's at her wit's end when a new nurse unexpectedly comes to check on Firmino's oxygen tank. Casually explaining that she has replaced Firmino's old caretaker, Juracy bombards Irene with a no-holds-barred assessment of Firmino's condition — he will never get any better, and will be in more and more discomfort as time goes on. She then presents a modest proposal — dispose of Firmino, a mercy killing of sorts, and in his place host an Argentinian drug lord who has faked his own death and needs a place to hide out. Irene is taken aback by the woman's idea, but she also doesn't say no. This is ultimately a story of utilitarian, practical need versus the hard reality of an uncaring universe where only the strong survive.

For me, this plot didn't really hang together – having the drug lord stay with them is very contrived and just serves to set up an interesting situation. Several sub-plots start but don't go anywhere, such as the gay affair between Jairo and his neighbour, or the son buying cocaine for the drug lord. The humour is there but well signposted and so loses its punch.

Charcoal culminates in a predictable second act of murder, which isn't presented as a moral choice so much as a necessity. The film suggests a perpetual cycle of dog-eat-dog violence that is not investigated but actually takes a cold, unblinking look at what normal people will do to make their way in this world.