The Delinquents: Stealing Time, by Scott Nye
Morán (Daniel Elías) has a plan. He’s worked at the bank for some number of years, the day-to-day routine has become numbing, but there’s a simple, if not necessarily easy, way out – steal enough money to retire on, secretly stash it with a colleague, take the rap for the theft, ride out the three-and-a-half year sentence in prison, then you’re home free. What’s three years in jail versus another twenty behind the counter, after all?
I, too, have questions about the specifics of this plan, but writer/director Rodrigo Moreno (updating the premise of 1949’s Hardly a Criminal) gradually dispels such trivialities. The Delinquents, though understandably being sold as a comedic heist film (it is, technically, both funny and heist-y), will disappoint those coming for the interwoven complexity of an Ocean’s Eleven (or hell, even those coming for the non-complexity of a Bottle Rocket). Morán isn’t really after money, after all. Morán is after freedom. And Moreno has plenty of that to give.
Much of the film’s first half deals with the execution of this plan – Morán stealing the money, handing it off to Román (Esteban Bigliardi), acclimating to prison life; then, parallelly, we see the fallout at the bank, the insurance investigation, Román’s anxiety hiding the money from his girlfriend and concern the bank will catch him, and so on. Practical matters. On a pure craft level, Moreno has a knack for keeping the momentum up with a languid aesthetic. Later, two characters will go to the cinema to see Robert Bresson’s L’Argent, which is a real call-your-shot comparison, but the economy of storytelling in this film’s first 80-90 minutes does call to mind the best of Bresson.
The second half is a whole other beast, one best left discovered, as the breaking point (and a theater could very well institute an intermission after the “end of part one” title card) comes at an unexpected point, right as Román is reaching the peak of a mountain at something of a potential climax, only to, almost immediately in its second half, take on very different concerns. It’s not that the money stops mattering entirely, but when the time comes for Morán to seek it out once again, we’ve become so much more enveloped in a series of interconnected relationships, mirrored names, and idyllic rural experiences. Those scenes, in a clever and wise bit of dramatic irony, do not come to Morán and Román because they now have the money to afford them; they come because the theft gave them cause to depart from the ordinary tableau of their lives, a decision they could have made any time, any day.
Those steeped in the past fifteen years of Argentine cinema, particularly since the rise of digital cameras, will be little surprised by Moreno’s ambition or technique. At three hours, it is far from the longest film that country has exported to U.S. release in recent years (hello, fourteen hours of La Flor) or even this year (hello, four-plus-hours of Trenque Lauquen). His tranquil pace, particularly in the second half, may seem at odds with his genre trappings, so much so that I spent much of it wondering what plot he was setting up with, say, a long detour to a swimming hole. He does have a plot to set up with it, but not the kind one might expect. The freedom isn’t only for the characters; it’s for him, it’s for us, it’s for the quality of this sort of story. It’s for a whole other set of characters whose names are also anagrams with the same letters as Morán’s and Román’s. The discovery there is part of the fun, and with a comic book punchline no less.
The Delinquents is open now in New York, and rolls out to more theaters on October 27th. See here for details.