- Written and directed by Rodrigo Moreno
- Starring Daniel Elias, Esteban Bigliardi and Margarita Molfino
- Classification N/A; 180 minutes
- Opens in Toronto and Montreal theatres Oct. 27, Vancouver Oct. 29
“Didn’t you say that film is dead?” This is the question that pops up at a critical moment in Rodrigo Moreno’s new, winding Argentine comedy The Delinquents, and it lands like a provocation for audience members who have just experienced an hour and a half of extremely slow-burn moviemaking, yet are barely halfway through. Leisurely paced, thoroughly if not relentlessly deadpan, and quietly contemplative to the point of gentle sleepiness, Moreno’s production is a challenging yet decidedly alive thing. Film ain’t dead – not for those willing to pay close and patient attention.
A heist movie in which the central theft is treated like an afterthought, The Delinquents focuses on two employees of a Buenos Aires bank. Moran (Daniel Elias) is a bland, single clerk whose life is a series of humdrum routines, as revealed during an extended opening sequence following just one of his many uneventful mornings waking up, grabbing coffee, heading into work. But Moran has a plan to steal $650,000 – not an exorbitant amount, just double what he would have made if he worked at the branch until retirement. Even more pragmatic: Moran turns himself in after the robbery, calculating that 3½ years behind bars is an easier sentence to endure than two more decades punching the clock at the bank.
But before he confesses to the authorities, Moran enlists his co-worker Roman (Esteban Bigliardi) to stash the money while he’s locked up, agreeing to split the goods if everything goes according to plan. Of course, that doesn’t quite happen – but not in a way that countless other heist movies have taught moviegoers to anticipate. Instead, Moreno teases out – over the course of three hour-long parts in which the narrative’s timeline overlaps and doubles back – a wry drama about two men who think they have figured out an escape from quotidian life only to have their assumptions and hopes tested.
This includes the arrival of a spirited young woman named Norma (Margarita Molfino), who becomes a lover for both Moran and Roman, not to mention complications both inside the bank and the prison. The question of whether Moran and Roman can escape to a better tomorrow eventually is replaced by a more existential one: Can anyone remake their life without completely destroying themselves?
At times, Moreno seems to be deliberately, annoyingly poking his audience in the eyes, then the ribs. This is a long, repetitive kind of filmmaking that calls attention to its luxuriousness. At one point, we watch Roman and Norma discuss heading to a hotel, then walking through the hotel’s doors, then walking up to the room, as if the director knew such a sequence was unnecessary in every way but as an endurance test.
Then there is The Delinquents’ obsession with doubling. Moreno employs split screens to show Moran and Roman at different points in their journeys. The same actor plays both the boss of the bank and the mob boss of the prison. And what about the three lead characters, whose names are anagrams of the other?
Moreno avoids putting too fine a point on just why he’s playing around with such matters of multiplicity. His film is both a provocation and a shrug – make of it what you will. But whatever answer you do or do not arrive at, one thing is clear by the end of The Delinquents: film ain’t dead, if you’re watching with eyes wide open.