The Movie Waffler New to MUBI/VOD - THE DELINQUENTS | The Movie Waffler


A bank clerk becomes an unwitting accomplice when a co-worker steals a large sum of cash.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Rodrigo Moreno

Starring: Daniel Elías, Esteban Bigliardi, Margarita Molfino, Germán De Silva

The Delinquents poster

There's a scene in writer/director Rodrigo Moreno's The Delinquents in which an aging convict speaks about the one thing prison offers that the outside world doesn't – time. On the outside there's always something taking up your precious time, while behind bars every day offers empty slots. There's a delicious irony in this sentiment being expressed in a movie with a three hour plus run time. Relatively few people will watch The Delinquents. For a start, most people outside Argentina won't know of its existence. Then there's the huge swathe of viewers who refuse to watch subtitled movies. But for even for the most curious of cinephiles, that run time will prove a turn off.

If there's a message in Moreno's film, it's that you have more time than you think. We convince ourselves that we don't have time to enjoy life, but this negative persuasion prevents us from making time. A three hour movie may seem intimidating, but how often do you watch three hour long TV episodes back to back? How much time do you spend scrolling on your phone rather than reading a book? How often do you find yourself spending an hour lying in bed frowning and staring at the ceiling because you woke up too early, rather than taking advantage and getting a head start on the day? Of course, much of our time is wasted because it's out of our hands. We spend hours stood on busses and trains because our employers don't trust us to work from home. We spend even more hours pretending to work at the office so we don't get fired.

The Delinquents review

For Morán (Daniel Elias), time is precious. He's 25 years away from retirement and goes through the motions at his job at a Buenos Aires bank. When fate leaves him alone in a vault filled with cash, Morán decides to change his life, filling a rucksack with hundreds of thousands of dollars and walking out the door. As it's Friday on a bank holiday weekend, his crime won't be discovered until the following Tuesday.

Rather than simply absconding, Morán has a unique plan. He'll hide the money and then turn himself in without revealing its whereabouts. He figures with good behaviour he'll be released in three and a half years, at which point he can retrieve the money and live the life of a retiree. Morán has convinced himself that three and a half years in prison beats 25 years at the bank.

For some reason I haven't been able to figure out, Morán enlists an unwilling accomplice in fellow bank employee Román (Estaban Bigliardi). Morán hands over the bag of cash to Román and gives him instructions to hide it under a rock at the top of a hill in a remote rural area. Román can keep half of the money but should he ever try to back out, Morán will tell the authorities he was his accomplice.

Why Morán involves Román is a puzzling question that the film never answers, but it sets Román off on a journey of self-discovery. Like Morán, Román is unhappy with his lot. His life consists of working at the bank and returning to a marriage that seems to be running on fumes. Heading out to the country to stash the cash, Román gets a taste of the sort of freedom he didn't know he longed for. He breathes in the clean country air and wades through a crystal clear stream. When three young people invite him to join their picnic he makes an excuse to leave, saying he's in a rush to catch the bus. He's informed that the next bus doesn't leave for hours. Suddenly Román has something that has too often eluded him – time.

The Delinquents review

To say any more would be to ruin the surprising direction the film takes from that point. What begins as an urban heist thriller evolves into a pastoral romance, as though the anti-hero of a Jean-Pierre Melville thriller hopped on a bus and ended up in an Eric Rohmer drama. It's an echo of thrillers like Nicolas Ray's On Dangerous Ground and Peter Weir's Witness, in which big city cops discover a life they've been missing out on when their work brings them to a laid back rural setting, only here it's a criminal who is subject to such a revelation.

In such films there's always an external force that threatens to disrupt this newfound idyllic life, but here Román's only enemy is himself. The authorities never pose a threat to Román, but we fear his happiness may be threatened by his refusal to bask in his freedom as he makes excuses to justify his return to the rat race. What's ironic is that despite the wealth that has fallen in his lap courtesy of Morán's crime, the contentment Román finds is completely separated from money.

While Román is breathing in the country air, Morán is similarly reawakened by the time he has on his hands in prison. He immerses himself in literature, which he reads from the morning until the last ray of sun has passed by the bars on his cell window. In a scene that almost plays like a parody of movies like The Shawshank Redemption, we watch as Morán reads to a captivated audience of prisoners, hardened men softened by words they probably can't understand but certainly feel.

The Delinquents review

Moreno peppers his film with some absurdist humour. Morán's boss at the bank and the elderly convict who becomes his nemesis in prison are both played by the same actor (Germán de Silva). A climactic confrontation is repeatedly interrupted by a young boy requesting glass after glass of water. Five of the main characters have names that are anagrams of one another – Morán, Román, Ramon, Norma, Morna – and at one point the camera swoops in on a copy of the comic book Namor. Such comic asides are so sparse in the film's lengthy narrative that they come off as misplaced, as though Moreno couldn't resist some dad jokes. Moreno undermines his film with such gags, and if they were removed his film might even earn favourable comparisons to Antonioni. The Delinquents is often reminiscent of The Passenger, the Italian auteur's film in which a man similarly discovers a new life through another man's actions.

Moreno's film is always captivating to look at, whether it's the teeming streets of Buenos Aires or the rolling hills of rural Argentina. He deploys pre-existing pieces by the legendary Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla in a manner that makes you believe they were penned to accompany his film, with Morán's tense theft scored by Piazolla's 'Persecuta' and Román's later rural enlightenment by the Tango titan's 'Suite for Oboe and Strings'. While its sounds and images may be distinctly Argentinian, The Delinquents' guidance is universal – enjoy yourself, it's earlier than you think.

The Delinquents is on UK/ROI VOD and MUBI UK now.

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