Argentinian director Rodrigo Moreno’s The Delinquents is an intriguing bank heist film/romance drama enhanced by its parallels.
Every day in Buenos Aires, the unassuming and calm Morán (Daniel Elías) sets off from his small apartment, taking the subway to his job as treasurer at a bank. It is a monotonous routine that he shares with his co-workers including one he barely speaks to, Román (Esteban Bigliardi). Therefore, it is even more surprising when, during a dinner with Román, Morán reveals he stole $650,000 from the bank. He knows he will be caught – he stuffed it into his burgundy bag in full view of the CCTV cameras. And that is where Román comes in.
Morán will turn himself in and serve time in prison. If his colleague keeps the bag of money until his release, they’ll split it in half and not have to work anymore. As Morán reasons, it is either “three and a half years in jail or 25 years in the bank.” So Román becomes an unwilling accomplice, concealing the money from his music teacher partner Flor (Gabriela Saidon). It won’t be the last thing he keeps from her. And after briefly hiding out in a small village, Morán heads to prison. So far, so good. However, as Robert Burns famously wrote, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
First, the no-longer-trusting bank manager Del Toro (Germán De Silva) starts punishing his employees whilst investigator Laura Ortega (Laura Paredes) starts interrogating Román. Meanwhile, Morán draws the attention of Garrincha (also De Silva), who offers – or rather forces – protection for a price. Later, Morán tells Román to bury the money on a hill near Alpa Corral. There, Román meets Ramon (Javier Zoro) and two sisters – Morna (Cecilia Rainero) and Norma (Margarita Molfino) – who are all working on a film. Joining them for lunch, he begins to form a bond with Norma. And as his job becomes even more of a nightmare, her visits become a welcome escape.
That is the elaborate but intriguing set-up to The Delinquents (Los Delincuentes), the new film from Argentinian director Rodrigo Moreno. Inspired partly by the 1949 crime drama Hardly A Criminal (down to the name of one of the characters), Moreno first presents a heist as mundane as his characters’ lives before complexifying things. This is partly a film of hitches, the pressures and complications of staying in prison or keeping up appearances. Yet it is also ever-shifting. Split into two parts, the second half all but abandons the money and becomes something else entirely. A romantic drama involving both a woman and a way of life.
With its dull, wooden colours and tight cubicles, the bank where our main duo begin their journey is arguably a prison too. Román has been there for 17 years. It is unclear whether Morán has worked for more or less time but for him, it is long enough to feel imprisoned by it. “We live only to work” he says at one point, describing how he does “exactly the same as the day before.” With Morna, Norma and Ramon, he finds a simpler, communal and almost Bohemian life full of horseback riding and natural pleasures. It is the perfect life away from the city and the arms of capitalism. It inspires a plan some will call insane.
This is a film enhanced by its parallels and the notion of parallel lives. It begins with a case of identical signatures at the bank. Then you realise that Román, Morán, Norma, Morna and Ramon all spelt with the same five letters. Plus, Román and Morán encounter characters played by the same actor. At one point, there is a two-shot split screen of the pair reaching out of a cigarette that is out of frame, as if they are reaching out to each other. Moreno brings that trick back later with Morán and a different character, following a dash back in time for a twist that works well.
Rodrigo Moreno’s The Delinquents is an intriguing bank heist thriller and a decent romance drama rolled into one. Alejo Maglio’s camera mimics the tendency of some films to be wide and static when in and amongst nature. And Fabio Massimo Capogrosso’s music is a swirl of styles and instruments, with piano and clarinet-led pieces and with both Argentinian, ‘70s and electro twists. Slow and steady throughout, it never quite justifies its just over three-hour runtime. Yet the film is a watchable experience that asks not where is the money, but rather, where is freedom?
The Delinquents will be released in US theaters on October 18, 2023.