A big con from Argentina
For one thing, this Argentine production,written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky and released in 2000, is a quiet movie, literally and figuratively. It has no background music that I can recall, no thudding, fast-paced soundtrack to hammer home the message that something exciting is happening. It's a sweet-natured buddy movie, in part, a tale of one con man teaching a younger colleague the tricks of the trade.
It's also a deadpan comedy of two men trying to make a living in a hard world. "Those are thieves," the older scamster, Marcos, tells his protégé, Juan, pointing out the pickpockets and snatch-and-grab thieves in a sequence whose rapid cutting among shifty characters at work is a sly satire of action movies.
"I'm not a crook!" is a catch line throughout the movie, and it works because it's always delivered straight and always accepted at face value. It even works when Juan's jailed father confides to his son during a prison visit that "This place is full of crooks."
The Nine Queens of the title are a sheet of rare stamps from the Weimar Republic, a counterfeit copy of which Marcos and Juan try to sell to a millionaire about to be deported. The customer's haste means he lacks time to verify the stamps' authenticity with chemical tests, and therein lie Marcos and Juan's hopes for success.
Complications naturally ensue, one provided by the snatch-and-grab thieves mentioned above, and Juan and Marcos end up scrounging for money to finance their scheme. That's when the fun really starts and, even when tension is highest, the mood remains quiet. Its mood is perhaps best encapsulated in this droll exchange, Marcos' proposal of a business partnership after he rescues Juan from a botched convenience-store con:
"I'm Marcos, and you are?"And now, readers, here's your assignment: Rent and watch Nine Queens. Then tell me how far in advance you figured out what was going to happen.
"Juan. But you've always wanted to be called – "
"Guys called Juan always want another name. Let's do business, Sebastin."
© Peter Rozovsky 2007