The Delinquents

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A heist movie done as slow cinema, The Delinquents (aka Los Delincuentes) sets up genre expectations then delivers them with a twist. But mostly doesn’t deliver them at all. What a strange, big beast of a film Rodrigo Moreno has given us.

Moreno gets straight into the meat of his story – Morán (Daniel Elías), a bank employee, realises that in one swift heist he can bag as much money as he’d make if he stayed in his job until retirement, 20-odd years in the future. Enough money, in fact, that he could split it with a fellow worker, Román (Esteban Bigliardi) and still be ahead.

The plan: Morán will steal the money, then Román will hide it while Morán owns up to the crime and goes to jail. In three-and-a-half years, Morán reckons, he should be back outside, where he and Román will divide the loot and go their separate ways.

And that’s what happens. Morán pulls off a simple heist, looking over a colleague’s shoulder as the colleague enters his half of the two-step code only he knows. Later, when everyone has gone home, Morán enters his half of the code, the other man’s half and voilà, the safe door swings open, he fills his soft bag with loot and is gone.

Here the story broadens right out, expanding onto a vast narrative flood plain. There are two largely complementary flows. First Moreno follows Morán as he leaves town and hikes into the countryside before eventually giving himself up at a rural police station. Morán ends up in jail, where the big man, Garrincha, puts the squeeze on him and Morán starts coughing up the extortionate amounts that will guarantee Garrincha’s “protection”.

In the other Román remains at work, where his boss, Del Toro, is convinced one of the bank’s employees has acted as an inside man, though everyone looks baffled at this suggestion. Morán needed no inside man – he was an inside man himself, so why look any further? Undeterred, Del Toro brings in an insurance investigator (Laura Paredes), who over time becomes suspicious of Román, who is not cut out for harbouring secrets.

Morán in jail and safe, once he’s started paying Garrincha; Román in the outside world and in danger, once the insurance investigator arrives. It is a strange dynamic, and one Moreno clearly wants to explore.

Garrincha and Del Toro are played by the same man, Germán De Silva. The names “Morán” and “Román” are anagrams of each other. Later, we will get extended sequences in which both Morán (in flashback) and Román meet sisters anagrammatically called Norma (Margarita Molfino) and Morna (Cecilia Rainero). These women also know someone called Ramón, not to be confused with Román.

Esteban Bigliardi as Román
Esteban Bigliardi as Román

There’s a hugely structured story about overlap and equivalence going on here, though at another level Moreno is trying to hide any sense of an artistic guiding hand. This story doesn’t just ramble, it heads off into the hills on super-long, massively digressive hikes. So digressive, in fact, that the digressions start to become the story and the heist recedes to a detail.

There are love subplots for both Morán and Román, though “subplots” doesn’t give a sense of how important they are.

There is often the feeling of nothing happening at all in The Delinquents but also, as in a Revenger’s Tragedy, of an implacable deterministic fate at work. Gears grind implacably but silently.

This film, three hours and ten minutes of it, is unafraid of spending ten minutes with Morán in prison while he reads poetry aloud from a book. At any point any new plot development could take us all on a different path or it might lead us nowhere at all – or that’s how Moreno wants it to feel. By the end it’s clear nothing accidental has been going on here at all.

It’s unusual, sprawling, often drily funny and incredibly watchable, in a “where are we going now?” kind of way, with Daniel Eliás and Esteban Bigliardi both outstanding as Morán and Román, one sleek with inner calm, the other wiry with paranoia, and Margarita Molfino excellently ambiguous as Norma – is she femme fatale or jeune fille?

Only a few days ago I watched Laura Citarella’s Trenque Lauquen (which had a central role for Laura Paredes), another vastly discursive and hugely enjoyable engagement with storytelling itself. After a gush of brilliant movies in the early 21st century, from Pablo Trapero, Lucrecia Martel, Martín Rejtman and Juan José Campanella and others, Citarella and now Rodrigo Moreno are suggesting that Argentinian cinema is having another moment.

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© Steve Morrissey 2024

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