Argentinian director Rodrigo Moreno’s latest film THE DELINQUENTS, which was picked up by MUBI and Magnolia Pictures International this past May in Cannes, is two films stitched together: the first is a tense, well executed heist film, while the second is a languid, dawdling, bourgeois call for us as human beings to return to nature… Guess which one I liked better?
Morán (Daniel Elias) and Román (Esteban Bigliardi) are both bank clerks in Buenos Aires; when Morán steals 650 thousand dollars from their job, Román has no choice but to accept Morán’s offer to split the loot 50/50 in exchange for holding the bag for three years, during which Morán will serve his (suspiciously short) prison sentence for the crime. The rest of the three-hour runtime charts the emotional and material consequences of their crime, as well as their respective reconnections to nature after they depart from the city.
Look: Work sucks.
I don’t want to go to work every day, every week, every month, every year, for the rest of my life, either; it’s a draining, unfair system we humans have devised for ourselves, and navigating this unsolvable labyrinth is maddening. I’m not a bootlicker. But, to assert that there is no worse fate for a man than working in a bank until retirement is frankly absurd, especially when you posit that being incarcerated is better. Morán’s life may be monotonous and unexciting, and he may not have much going for him, but I don’t buy that as a motivation to willingly go to prison.
This may be my Americanized perspective, but there are a hell of a lot of things I would rather do than go to prison—going to work, especially in an air conditioned bank, is one of them. Are workers at all levels being exploited? Of course. Does working in customer service blow? Yes. Does the premise of THE DELINQUENTS still strike me as the bemoaning of a comfortable class that takes a lot for granted? Also yes. If a character is reaching for desperate measures, they better be going through desperate times (or at least have a compelling problem outside of being a boring person like Morán). Walter White turns to running a crystal meth empire because of his mounting medical bills; Sonny Wortzik robs the Brooklyn bank in order to pay for his lover’s gender transition surgery. These are the stakes that kept us watching BREAKING BAD season after season, that made us cheer for Pacino in DOG DAY AFTERNOON. Morán and Román are… Guys who work in a bank, and are starting to feel the ticking of the clock looming over their heads. Román was even living a cozy dream life before Morán’s indecent proposal. He lived rather snugly with his lover, got along well with his co-workers. The story hinges on their being equal accomplices, which they are not: Morán strong-armed Román into going along with his plan.
To complicate matters, our two delinquents coincidentally fall for the same woman at different times. Norma’s (Margarita Molfino) carefree (read: manic pixie), rural, hippie lifestyle embodies Morán and Román’s idyllic conception of what their lives outside of the bank could look like. However much Molfino was paid, it wasn’t enough to act like she was attracted to the drab Morán character. Molfino is a beautiful woman, and brings charm to a role that might otherwise have felt more like an empty vessel, but Norma is not a person who exists outside of making Morán and Román Eskimo brothers, which makes the long run time all the more frustrating. At this point, it feels like a cliche to say that the painfully underwritten female character could have had a more compelling inner life than that of the two male leads, but it rings true here. Norma has actually lived a full life of experiences with the natural world—why wouldn’t I rather see things from her perspective?
Am I supposed to believe that these two city slickers, especially Román, are better off for having committed their crime? They’ve lived in the city for their whole lives, how do they expect to live off the land? Norma and her gang will just smile and take care of them? I’m not saying people shouldn’t steal from their jobs, but I am saying that to me, this smells a lot like DSA guys who spew a lot of talk about growing their own food, but still have their moms do their taxes for them.