The Delinquents (2023) (Los delincuentes)

The Delinquents directed by Rodrigo Morena is an enthralling, misleading Argentinian film – original but also reminiscent of Spike Jonze or a reversal of The Shawshank Redemption.

What is Freedom and How Do You Find It?

by Alexa Dalby

The Delinquents

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

In the bustle of Buenos Aires, balding, unlikely rebel Morán (Daniel Elias) is a middle-aged bank employee, trusted with retrieving the brimming stacks of banknotes in the safety deposit vault. But he is secretly calculating how much money he would need to never have to work again versus how much salary he would earn over a lifetime at the bank. He will take not a penny more, not a penny less.

He pressures his equally staid colleague Román (Esteban Bigliardi) into keeping hold of the holdall containing the stolen money for him, in return for a half share, and continuing to work at the bank to avoid suspicion. Morán will then give himself up, anticipating serving the minimum term of three and a half years in prison, after which, he will return to reclaim the cash and carry on as planned, and both of them will benefit.

But of course, life is more complicated than that. We had a hint of intersecting lives earlier in the bank, when two customers incredibly had the same signature – so unusual that no one knows what to do about it. Also, bank boss Del Toro is played by the same actor (veteran Germán de Silva) who we find plays the prison gang boss Garrincha.

The Delinquents is an intriguing premise that starts as a caper movie and develops into something existential. It’s the road not travelled, the path not taken – until it is. The two main characters turn out to have parallel lives that cross each other: lived and not lived, or maybe still to be lived.

Intriguingly, and probably as more parallels, characters have names that are anagrams of each other: Morán and Román and later free-ranging film director Ramón. This also applies to the sisters Norma (Margarita Molfino) and Morna (Cecilia Rainero), whom we meet first of all in an idyllic scene, bathing in a rock pool in the beautiful region of Córdoba (you will find out who and maybe why) and picnicking happily with Ramón.

Director Morena says of his film, “The idea of two characters reaching the same destiny was something I really liked telling. How they can take strongly different journeys and finally reach more or less the same place… We don’t have hope today. This is what Morán finds out. He wants a better life that’s [disconnected from the] modern world. The work, the job, the organised life – that’s what Morán rebels against.”

Evocative music choices add considerably to the film’s appeal, most notably several lush, accordion-heavy pieces by Astor Piazzolla. Blues guitarist Pappo, whose vinyl album is another link between the characters, also features on the soundtrack, his song ’Where Is Freedom?’ provides a clue to the film’s unexpected closing sequence. A stash of money is all well and good. But freedom is priceless.

Morena’s film has elements inspired by Argentinian director Hugo Fregonese’s 1949 film Hardly a Criminal (Apenas un delincuente) but as with The Shawshank Redemption, cleverly turns the premise on its head. The Delinquents may seem overlong, particularly in the last section, but it needs time to develop into what it was always meant to be. Its characters’ search for a better life stays with you.

The Delinquents premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in Un Certain Regard and is released on 22 March 2024 in the UK.

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