The Delinquents
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film ‘The Delinquents’ review: Two men try to steal freedom in a delightfully existential three-hour heist movie

‘The Delinquents’ review: Two men try to steal freedom in a delightfully existential three-hour heist movie

The Delinquents

Arguably the first slow-moving cinema heist film, Rodrigo Moreno’s dreamy and conversational “The Delinquents” may begin with one of the most discreet bank heists anyone has ever attempted, but it’s hard to overstate how thrilling it feels once the thief finally tells us about what he stole.

Morán (Daniel Eliás) is a middle-aged clerk at a musty Buenos Aires bank who appears to be stuck in the 1970s – an appropriate touch for a workplace that serves as a repository for lost time. People start there when they’re young, only to wake up in the same place some 55 years later and realize that the work they’ve done to help pay for their living has actually become their life somewhere along the way. When the sun rises over Morán’s apartment in the morning, his colorless uniform is already spread out on the chair next to his bed as if it were his body, and he were only its ghost. Perhaps that explains why he’s nearly invisible to his colleagues at the bank, who pay Morán no attention as he stacks a few dozen bricks of American cash out of the vault and into his backpack.

Later that night, while eating fast food with his colleague Román (Esteban Bigliardi), Morán will explain that he stole exactly $650,000, which is exactly double the money he would make before retirement if he worked every day for the next quarter of century. He plans to turn himself in, but not before offering Román an equitable division of the money if his colleague agrees to hide the money for the duration of his prison stint.

It’s just basic math: For the same payment, Morán could spend three years in prison or 25 years in the bank. He doesn’t want to be rich, he just wants to be free. Free from capitalism, free from its lopsided farce of work-life balance, and free from the restrictions of conventional thinking, which not only affect our agendas but also the way we see the world itself. It might seem like a silly goal in a less creative film than Moreno has accomplished here, but this playful three-hour reverie is so blissfully unmoored from the expectations of day-to-day storytelling that it’s tempting to think that Morán might not be prone to windmills after all. .

Brief by the standards of a certain recent Argentine cinema, but still breezy and unhurried in a way that invites your mind to wander without being bound by the usual plot obligations, ‘The Delinquents’ is less concerned with the details (or dramatic consequences) of Morán’s theft rather than how the very idea behind it begins to remap Roman’s entire worldview. The gym bag full of cash she stuffs into his bedroom closet doesn’t so much provoke her greed as it does her imagination. The cops never really notice what happened, and none of Moreno’s main characters feel like the walls are closing in on them.

In contrast, “The Delinquents” deftly turns the average heist movie upside down by lifting the veil from its characters’ eyes and expanding their concept of what is possible – gradually at first, and then with such delirious force that Morán and Ramón threaten to detach from reality. The fact that their names are anagrams of each other reflects the film’s slightly cosmic interest in the mysteries of the universe; the fact that he even makes a Marvel joke out loud reflects the film’s warm, dry sense of humor. While “The Delinquents” was purposely crafted to provoke active viewing and push back against the algorithmic storytelling that has stifled the life of modern cinema, its airiness and emerging sense of romance make it a delightful place to lose yourself in for a while.

When we’re first introduced to Morán, he’s determined to escape the rat race where the first thing people ask is invariably some variation on “what do you do for work?”, as if that’s the only meaningful way to assess someone’s worth. As strictly as “The Delinquents” can be called a movie about anything, it is a movie about finding a better question. The answers are off the table here, throughout the film, wide, wide, Wide open ending, but that frame of reference expands a little more with each passing scene.

The thing is, work has never been a particularly significant index to identity in the first place. Ramón was employed at the bank for years, spending more time with his colleagues than with his family, yet he and his colleagues developed almost zero loyalty to each other. Morán does not choose him as his accomplice because they are friends, but simply because it was the more convenient choice (a decision due to some silly business involving a neck brace). The fact that Ramón has to support the thirstiest teenage son in the world – you’ll see what I mean – is not a factor, as is the fact that Ramón looks a bit like Ben Mendelsohn and maintains an extraordinarily active sex life for a long- the married man has nothing to do with his eventual decision to leave his life as a worker bee behind.

Ramón will arrive to leave the rest of the world behind, while the bank teller seems to slip into another plane of existence after Morán instructs him to bury part of the money in the hills of Cordoba. It’s there, near the end of a long journey that stretches from one part of Moreno’s film to the other, that he encounters a group of free spirits who reveal the true breadth of what this life has to offer. It is testament to the disarming effect of Moreno’s narrative rhythms – to the enchanted allure of his zooms and to the ability of Astor Piazzolla’s oboe symphonies to drag you away with them – that Ramón’s chance encounter with some strangers at a watering hole has the same mind-altering power of Morpheus that introduces Neo to the Matrix. It doesn’t hurt that one of the women he meets there takes a liking to him, nor that the one-day romance that develops between them is struck by the magic of a lifelong memory. The spark that Ramón feels around Norma (Margarita Molfino) hovers in his mind like an open flame, which he struggles to put out once he returns to his wedding in Buenos Aires.

It is here, in the even more languid and abstract second half of Moreno’s film, that “The Delinquents” begins to dwell on the true cost of freedom. It does so without a hint of moral panic or the threat of becoming a cautionary tale, as Moreno relies on ruminating split screens and an elastic sense of time to take stock of what it means to embrace a life without stops or boundaries.

Moran and Ramon do not punished for their choices, per se, but there I am consequences of blowing wherever the wind takes you, and it requires each of these men to relinquish the control that had made them feel at home in their previous lives, at least in one way or another. As with any good existential crisis, their newfound awareness of the meaninglessness of life will have to be its own reward.

“Where is the freedom?” asks a song in the credits. Morán and Ramón are tasked with finding it themselves, and Moreno is unwilling to offer them any hints, even when the promise of freedom is all these characters have left. Their quest is naturally without a fixed destination, but watching them ride off into the sunset, the palpable sense of limitless possibilities feels like victory enough. “Wasn’t the film dead?” someone asks the director whom Ramón meets by chance during his trip to Cordoba. “Maybe he’s not quite dead,” they reply.

Grade: B+

“The Delinquents” premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.

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