Credit: Cannes Film Festival
by Jesse Catherine Webber Featured Film Spotlight

The Delinquents — Rodrigo Moreno

October 17, 2023

Blanket declarations about three-hour-plus runtimes always seem curious when filmmakers employ said length for wildly different purposes. Though the sweeping epic may be the most classic Hollywood implementation, the space can be used to house labyrinthine plots, emphasize repetition, or facilitate other experimental practices. In Rodrigo Moreno’s new film, The Delinquents, the director uses the space to play. Throughout its runtime, the film shifts in form and genre, often feeling like an entirely different work than it was a mere half hour ago. These shifts, though, are not tectonic, and furthermore the film is united even in its disparity by the pleasure of discovery, as new facets of its characters and the world they inhabit are revealed.

The Delinquents tracks two men, Morán (Daniel Elias) and Román (Esteban Bigliardi) — the resemblance of their names goes unremarked upon until a transcendent whip pan gag about halfway through the film — in the years after Morán robs the bank they work at. In some ways, the procedural nature of the film’s first section resembles Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturama — similarly to how the actions of of that film’s characters take a while to emerge as a terrorist plot due to the project’s opaque marketing, there are few indications of Morán’s plan as he and Román go about a day’s work. When Román asks to leave early to get his neck brace removed, viewers may think it’s a part of the plan, but he is entirely surprised when Morán approaches him after work with a proposition: Morán has stolen a sum equal to the combined salary the two men will make in the twenty five years before they retire. Morán will turn himself in, exchanging the twenty five years at the bank for three and a half in prison, and Román needs only to hold onto the money for that time in order to receive his half.

Thirty minutes into the film, then, things seem to be coalescing around a fairly ludicrous premise. But though Moreno is not afraid to occasionally risk ludicrousness, he does thoroughly resist allowing his film to coalesce. Before his theft, Morán takes a smoke break with his boss and another co-worker. Claiming to have quit smoking the previous day, Morán quickly accepts a cigarette. His boss begins a tirade about all the places, including the bank, in which they used to be able to smoke: “We used to be freer,” he says. But when challenged, he immediately relents: “We weren’t freer, but we could smoke.” Morán drops his cigarette, and says he’s quitting. To the extent the film has a unifying theme, it’s this problematization of freedom. This is further illuminated by one of Moreno’s boldest formal quirks: in two key moments, a sliding split screen shows both Morán and Román smoking. Again, perhaps a thuddingly explicit metaphor, but an effective one.

But this sense of play is perhaps most evident in the film’s music. Though much of The Delinquents is scoreless, each non-diegetic cue Moreno does employ is entirely different — jaunty, electronic, Herrmannian. Similarly, the split screen isn’t the only formal flourish Moreno utilizes. There are a few things holding the film together despite this heterogeneity, and though Moreno’s visual impishness can be jarring, his formal punctuations never feel out of place. A hard cut conveys the irrevocability of a harsh touch; a slow rack focus searches the landscape. And operating as dual signposts for all of this are Elias and Bigliardi’s performances — though their decisions don’t always follow clear logic, they precisely communicate Morán and Román’s development. The Delinquents is a film rooted in change, the two men at its center evolving in the wake of Morán’s crime and engendering its surprising shifts. But the two performances are as steadying and guiding as they are rich, elevating what otherwise might have only been a delightful formal playground into captivating character study.

DIRECTOR: Rodrigo Moreno;  CAST: Daniel Elías, Esteban Bigliardi, Margarita Molfino;  DISTRIBUTOR: Mubi;  IN THEATERS: October 16;  RUNTIME: 3 hr. 9 min.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 22.