I’ve mentioned this a couple of times before, especially in recent weeks. For the most part, I am perfectly fine with long movies. I would appreciate it if Hollywood, or individual theatres and chains, could get back into the habit of using regular intermissions for anything over 150 minutes, but that’s just a personal preference on behalf of my diabetic bladder. As a matter of artistic integrity, however, I have absolutely no issue with a filmmaker taking whatever time they deem necessary to tell their complete story.
That said, I have strong objections to two specific practices in this respect. The first is when the runtime is padded out with irrelevant fluff, thus extending the affair while doing no service to the plot or characters. The second is when someone makes a very long movie that tells an unfinished story. It is infuriating to see a visual artist take up so much of the audience’s time, only to leave things ambiguous or just open-ended without a solid conclusion.
Coming off an Oscar nomination this year, Argentina’s latest submission for International Feature, The Delinquents, commits both of these cardinal sins. Rodrigo Moreno’s latest project is advertised as a new and fresh take on the heist movie genre, and in fairness, there are a few moments where there are hints of subversion with a very tired formula. But really, when you come right down to it, the heist is only a small sample, a teaser, of what is really just a three-hour picture that refuses to end.
Things start off promisingly enough. Daniel Elías stars as Morán, the treasurer at a bank in Buenos Aires. One day, after careful calculations of the various assets in the bank, he takes a duffel bag into the safe and steals $650,000 American (Argentina uses both their own version of the peso and the American dollar as currency, and there are some — including one of the final candidates in the upcoming Presidential election — who support a full conversion to U.S. money). He doesn’t even try to hide it, acknowledging the cameras all over the establishment.
Later that evening, Morán tracks down Román (Esteban Bigliardi), a teller at the same bank who had left earlier in the day to take care of a medical issue. He was the only employee not on the premises when Morán committed the robbery, and thus would be the least suspicious as an accomplice. Taking him out for a quick drink, Morán shows him the bag of money, and asks him to keep it safe for him. As he explains, he is going to turn himself in for the theft, which will carry a sentence of about three and a half years with good behavior. He asks Román to simply look after the cash while he’s in prison, and when he gets out, they’ll split it evenly. Being the treasurer, he’s calculated that the $325,000 that they would each receive accounts for the equivalent of 25 years’ salary working at the bank. Morán is tired of working, and the way he figures it, it’s worth spending three-plus years behind bars if he can skip straight to his retirement. “Three years in prison, or 25 at the bank?” he asks Román, before the latter reluctantly accepts.
Now, there is something truly insightful here. Morán is intentionally robbing his own employer — one he knows is insured, so the bank will be compensated for the loss — to essentially break free of the daily rat race. He wants a simpler life in the rural, mountainous regions where he grew up, and he wants the funds to be able to afford it. The way he sees it, he’s already earned this money. He’s just taking a 20-year advance on his pension. In essence, he poses the question of whether it’s worth it to waste so much of your life only to end up with the same money, just so much closer to death, and therefore unable to enjoy it, assuming no corporate or government shenanigans take that career away from him before he can retire at all.
It’s not much, but Moreno’s on to something. There is a legitimate exploration to be had about when a person has done enough, paid the proper dues, to actually reap the benefits of their labor, especially when no one will, theoretically, be harmed by the act. However, there’s also an extreme degree of selfishness in this, as Morán is only willing to involve Román rather than the rest of the staff, he does so by putting Román in a very precarious legal position, and despite his intentions, there is collateral damage in this act. In order to keep things out of the press, the bank’s insurance company sends over an investigator (Laura Paredes) who berates the entire staff trying to find a collaborator, and several employees are laid off or given punitive pay cuts for their failure to prevent what they couldn’t possibly have anticipated. In Morán’s mind, he’s getting an early start on his retirement after he suffers a bit behind bars, while half of his former colleagues are forced back to square one. Just that contradiction alone would be worth a deep dive, and would genuinely be a new take on the heist tropes, as there wouldn’t be a double-cross so much as unforeseen consequences for the actions of someone who thought the job would be simpler than it actually was.
However, Moreno doesn’t go in any of those directions to examine his characters or even build suspense. Instead, Román keeps the money in his closet for a while until he gets too nervous. He then visits Morán in prison, which is just an incredibly stupid act, because it implicates them both as to knowing where the money is. Morán has Román deposit some of the cash into a separate account so that he can buy protection from the leader of the prison’s gang (in a fun bit of creative casting, Germán de Silva plays both the prison boss and the manager at the bank, so essentially Morán is serving the same master no matter what he does, but of course it’s just a visual wink for the audience, as Moreno does nothing with this dichotomy), and then tells him of a place to bury the money nearby, a place he visited before turning himself in. Román climbs a rocky cliff to do just that, and we reach the end of “Part One” of the story.
Oh yeah, “Part One.” This is the basic problem with this movie. I had completely forgotten that there was on-screen text denoting that this was the first of multiple parts at the very beginning of the film, because there was the mild excitement of the initial heist plot, and then a whole giant bag of nothing for over an hour. By the time we hit this moment, 90 minutes in, I honestly thought we were heading for the final act, not that we were only at the halfway point.
This is what I’m talking about when I say that the film artificially pads the runtime. After Morán steals the money and goes to jail, there’s about 15 minutes of content that fills an hour, most of it just Román getting paranoid as he constantly checks to see that the duffel bag is still in his closet, along with some low-level arguments with his live-in girlfriend (Gabriela Saidón who you’d never know wasn’t his wife apart from the lack of wedding rings, because it’s not explicitly stated until the final half hour despite them living together and her teaching music to two young children who most would assume were their own rather than students taking lessons). I mean, there’s literally a scene where Román is washing dishes, and one of the students comes into the kitchen asking for a glass of water. He downs it in one, and asks for another two more times. That’s just three minutes of dead air. We watch a kid, one that by all visual accounts we would presume was Román’s son, drink three glasses of water, and leave the room without comment. It has no bearing on anything, no relevance to the plot, no insight into Román’s character, just a completely wasted scene.
“Part Two” doesn’t offer much else, other than a convoluted love triangle. After burying the cash under a large rock, Román encounters a documentarian, his girlfriend, and her sister. Their names are, I shit you not, Ramón (Javier Zoro Sutton), Morna (Cecilia Rainero), and Norma (Margarita Molfino). That’s what passes for cleverness in Moreno’s eyes. Five core characters, all with anagrammed names. Whoop-de-fucking-do! The convention is utterly meaningless, as Norma is the only one of the new trio who has any importance to the story, and it’s not like all five are just variations on the same character archetype. That would have almost been poignant. No, these are all distinctive characters, and they’re all distinctively boring. Ooh, but isn’t it cool how all their names are similar? No. The word “trash” anagrams to “shart.” That doesn’t mean I’m smart for noticing it, though both words do accurately describe this story.
Román falls for Norma, and has an affair with her. We also learn through a very lengthy flashback that Morán had a fling with her before going inside. When Román realizes this, it’s supposed to be a source of conflict, but no such drama exists, because Norma herself sees the obvious stupidity and insanity in the situation, and she sees it instantly. We in the audience still have to endure over an hour of back-and-forth on the matter, including some of the most pompous, pretentious dialogue imaginable, where characters simply sit in place and ask each other rhetorical questions rather than getting to the heart of the matter, or even a single point. I’d say it’s sound and fury signifying nothing, but that would require a degree of passion that could even remotely rise to the level of fury. Really, it’s just white noise.
I’ve seen a lot of false advertising with movie trailers in my life, but rarely do foreign entries — especially those vying for the Academy’s attention — engage in such chicanery. There is a major robbery in this movie, but it’s of the audience’s patience more than anything else. Everything we could possibly care about with this story, all the potential nuance, and any hope of a satisfying conclusion, is over and done with after the first 20 minutes or so, leaving us with another 160 of waiting for a resolution that never comes. And sadly, this theft is permanent, because these are three hours of your life you’ll never get back.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Have you been able to track down any of this year’s International Feature entries? Is there any chance that we’ll ever see a good heist movie again? Let me know! And remember, you can follow me on Twitter (fuck “X”) and YouTube for even more content!