Guillermo Arriaga – Un dulce olor a muerte (A Sweet Scent of Death)

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Several years ago, I saw the film version of Un dulce olor a muerte at the Los Angeles Latino Film Festival. Starring a young Diego Luna (Y tu mamá también), it was oddly cast with actors from a wide variety of countries, and an equally odd conglomeration of accents. While it was incongruous to have such an international cast in a rural Mexican locale, the story was compelling and wonderfully executed, from a screenplay adapted by Arriaga from his novel.

We know Guillermo Arriaga from his writing of such films as Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel, but he has written a series of powerful novels, and wrote and directed the tragically overlooked film “The Burning Plain” starring Charlize Theron and (yes) Jennifer Lawrence. Un dulce amor a muerte is Arriaga’s first novel.

A young man is overcome with a variety of emotions when finds the naked body of a pretty girl in a field outside the village. Although he has only seen her a few times before, the villagers jump to the conclusion that she was his girlfriend, and Ramón is too distraught to correct them. Compounding the confusion, the girl’s family gives him her diaries, and he comes to believe that he is the secret lover she wrote about.

Meanwhile, the villagers and the police focus on who to blame for the murder. There is a surprising lack of interest in actually solving the crime, so it doesn’t take too many self-serving lies and exaggerations to settle on a guilty suspect. Nor does it take long to agree on the justice to be exacted, and that Ramón should be the instrument of that justice.

The tension mounts throughout the entire novel, as a headlong collision between an innocent man and a naive village becomes increasingly inevitable. Only a handful of people are in a position to change the course of events, but each has his or her reasons to stay silent. It comes down to the very last page to see the final outcome.

A tightly written, suspenseful story filled with well-realized characters.

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Una mañana muy temprano, Ramón descubre el cadáver de Adela en unos campos de avena cerca de Loma Grande. Ramón apenas había visto a Adela en un par de ocasiones, pero en el mismo instante en el que el muchacho cubre con su camisa el cuerpo desnudo de la muerta, comienza a difundirse el rumor de que Adela era su novia. A partir de ese momento, los hechos se irán desencadenando irremediablemente y Ramón se verá obligado a vengar la muerte de la joven. Su corazón es quien le obliga actuar, su corazón y un pueblo entero que se convierte en el protagonista de la novela, en el creador de una ofensa y de una venganza inevitable. Un dulce olor a muerte es una novela fascinante en que la pasión y el orgullo dictan cada una de las decisiones de los personajes, la venganza se convierte en destino y la verdad se muestra en su faceta más ambigua y demoledora.

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