Was there a memo on the new argentine cinema that fell behind the copy machine? The last few Argentine films I've seen have been very good, even if they can't be lumped into any sort of new aesthetic movement or be considered revelatory in the manner of the first wave of the new Iranian cinema of the early 90s.Nine Queens is a genre picture with an obvious model in David Mamet's House Of Games: a group of con men are consumed by the sport of stealing from one another while trying to make a big score.
As the film opens, Marcos (Ricardo Darín) meets Juan (Gastón Pauls) and rescues him from arrest in a Buenos Aires convenience store where he's practising the classic grift known as change-raising.
The veteran con man takes the younger under his wing, and then they stumble onto a huge con that will net them hundreds of thousands of dollars if they can peddle a set of rare Weimar Republic stamps known as the nine queens.
The pleasure of these movies comes from admiring the elegance of the machinations. The problem is that you can't much like any of the characters -- it's bad guys stealing from dubious guys. The truism "You can't cheat an honest man" is operative here, so even the "good" characters are questionable, and good characters like Marcos's sister (Leticia Brédice) are unpleasant, though with good reason.
I don't speak Spanish and don't really trust subtitles, so I can't say if Fabién Bielinsky's screenplay achieves the elegant economy of Mamet's puzzle movies. It's fun to watch the plot unfold and the distrust brew, but Bielinsky does tip his hand a little too early for the ending to come as the big surprise he obviously hopes it will be.
Still, it's more enjoyable than most of what passes for genre filmmaking these days in Hollywood, where the prevailing theory is that whoever blows up the most stuff wins.
Nine Queens offers the spectacle of people indulging their worst impulses to the best of their ability. It may not be morally edifying, but it's a lot more fun than, say, Scooby-Doo, during which I managed a chuckle about a half-hour in and then realized I was amused by the art direction.
Nine Queens written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky, produced by Celia Bossi and Pablo Bossi, with Ricardo Darn, Gastn Pauls, Leticia Brédice and Ignasi Abadal. 115 minutes. A Mongrel Media release. Opens Friday (June 14). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 85. Rating: NNNN