Anti-Heist Movie 'The Delinquents' Searches for Enlightenment — and Finds It

Directed by Rodrigo Moreno

Starring Daniel Eliás, Esteban Bigliardi, Margarita Molfino, Germán De Silva

Photo courtesy of Mongrel Media / MUBI

BY Prabhjot BainsPublished Oct 25, 2023

"Adonde está la libertad?" ("Where is freedom?") cries the closing song of Rodrigo Moreno's The Delinquents, a strange, puzzling and moving take on the heist drama. The explosive tune, written by Argentine rock legend Pappo, was a poignant howl for liberty in a 1970s Argentina that was rapidly descending towards authoritarianism. Pappo and his bandmates would see it become a reality in 1976, when the infamous Dirty War began and a military dictatorship ruled the country until 1983 — a period that saw suspected left-wing "subversives" suppressed, often through incredibly violent means.

Moreno effectively repurposes the song to examine a purer form of freedom, one that continues to escape us. It's not the type of freedom that is typically quashed by oppressive regimes. Instead, it's one diluted by our inability to balance work with life, often running out of time to meaningfully savour the latter.

These themes lie at the heart of the film's beguiling journey, which uses each of its 180 minutes not to subvert our expectations, but to brazenly shatter them. In doing so, the film awakens a profound desire in viewers to reclaim their lives and reinvent themselves. The Delinquents wastes no time in cementing these motifs, with a quaint, jazzy opening that depicts the humdrum mundanity of modern life with a bizarrely absorbing touch — so hypnotically edited and lyrically shot that it wonderfully sets the stage for a radical change.

Moreno presents a two-hander in an epic tale, centring on Morán (Daniel Eliás) and his similarly dull colleague Román (Esteban Bigliardi) joylessly toiling away at a Buenos Aires bank that deems their long years of service a trifle. Morán, though, has earned the respect of his crabby boss (Germán De Silva, relishing a delectable double role as an inmate), who entrusts him to carry large amounts of money from tills and strongboxes to the bank's vault.

It's easy to see where the film goes next. Morán snatches $325,000 with relative ease and meets Román for a drink, calmly making him an offer after dropping a knapsack filled with cash at his feet: he will turn himself in to the police and serve a short stint in prison while Román looks after the dough, which they will split after his sentence is completed. One notable caveat is that, if Román decides to come clean, Morán will tell the authorities they were colluding from the beginning.

From here, viewers will likely expect the film to become a tense thriller. Instead, it possesses a unique, languid rhythm, taking on a surreal, episodic structure full of playful asides and long interludes that intertwine the experiences of the two protagonists after the robbery, including run-ins with seedy inmates, wry interrogations by the bank's insurance agent, and a cosmic brush with romance.

Moreno is more interested in how the pressures of ordinary urban life can be rewritten as far simpler and more liberating because of it. Moreover, Moreno uses the atypical structure to question the nature of freedom itself — what it looks like and whether it's something to be reclaimed or something that has always belonged to us.

The film's co-directors of photography, Alejo Maglio and Ines Duacastella, employ grand, majestic brushstrokes that capture the wide open fields of the Argentine countryside with a newfound profundity, exposing the infinite possibilities that lie at our feet when we reject the traditional rules of life. Just as how Moreno rejects conventions at every turn, Maglio and Duacastella reinvent cinema's language in a seductive manner.

Moreno transforms meandering filmmaking into a positive with his mesmerizing use of slow dissolves and split-screen symmetry. He creates a fable that is both immersive and reflexive, pushing us to question why the modern world trains us to crave so much when we only need so little. As we drift along the film's unhurried, resplendent stream, the money becomes a significantly lesser prize, maybe one to be rejected in its entirety. Life begins to take precedence, a statement that reverberates with greater intensity in the film's wonderfully offbeat second half, which sees Moreno consistently taking paths that contradict the genre's most trusted of conventions. As a result, it becomes something of a glaring misnomer to call it a heist movie at all. Maybe an "anti-heist movie" would be a more accurate label.

The Delinquents could be described as needlessly contrarian work, but its refusal to tread familiar ground is its power. The movie makes the unknown inviting and invigorating despite how perilous it can be. Moreno crafts a droll yet dazzling experience that echoes Pappo's central question at every turn, calling us to answer it ourselves.

Should we continue the mindless grind of work and hope freedom somehow finds us, or do we embrace a world of danger and try to grasp it ourselves? It's a timeless riddle the film answers with an absurd yet revealing sense of grace — all the way to its winking final frame.
(Mongrel Media)

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