By Michael Sicinski
El Custodio (2006), the last of Rodrigo Moreno’s films to really gain traction on the festival circuit, was a grim but rigourous portrait of life at the periphery of power. The Delinquents is something else entirely. It’s a deconstructed film noir, not in the Derridean but in the culinary sense. Across its three hours, it articulates the cost of greed, the physical difficulty of theft, and above all the importance of choosing the right accomplice. Broken into two acts, with a cast of characters whose names are obviously anagrams of each other, The Delinquents is forward with its gamesmanship, and if the eventual resolution of its central conflict seems unsatisfying, that may be precisely the point.
Two men work together at a Buenos Aires bank. Morán (Daniel Elías) is the comptroller, and one day near the end of his shift, he goes into the vault, fills a knapsack up with hard American currency, and walks out. A colleague of his, Román (Esteban Bigliardi), who happened to be out at the time of the robbery, is contacted by Morán. He tells Román he intends to confess and do the time, but he wants Román to hide the money, which they’ll divvy up upon Moràn’s release. There isn’t much suspicion on Román at first, but the guy has no chill, can’t quit moving the money, and eventually goes to see Morán in jail. The bank can’t prove anything (and doesn’t want to acknowledge the robbery in the first place, lest depositors get spooked), but a hard-nosed insurance inspector (the great Laura Paredes) knows what’s up.
Everything about The Delinquents is deliberate, from its languorous pacing, its binary organization (“motorcycle vs. horse” becomes significant), and especially its skillfully deployed score, in which the oboe signals trouble and the harp suggests the anxiety of possible freedom. While hiding the money, Román runs into three other people: filmmaker Ramón (Javier Zoro Sutton), and sisters Morna (Cecelia Rainero) and Norma (Margarita Molfino). But is this really a chance meeting, or part of a doublecross? As part of Moreno’s noir disassembly he positions Norma as a possible femme fatale, but that itself is the red herring.
If there is one consistent theme at work in The Delinquents, it’s that moving stacks of cash is cumbersome, and possibly a romantic fantasy derived from old movies that in no way reflect contemporary life. At one point Román ducks into a Buenos Aires arthouse and catches a few minutes of Bresson’s L’Argent, a sign that Moreno is more than happy to lay his cards on the table, allowing the viewer to infer a game of three-card monty where there actually is none.