Swindlers swindle swindlers in this smartly constructed comedic thriller by the late Argentine director Fabián Bielinsky. The film opens in modern-day Buenos Aires, where Juan (Gastón Pauls), an amateurish conman, nervously smokes a cigarette outside a convenience store. Using a clever money trick, he successfully manages to scam the shop, but is ultimately caught when he stupidly tries to use the same trick minutes later with a second cashier. It is at this point where Marcos (played by the ever great Ricardo Darín) enters the frame, introducing himself as a policeman, ready to take the thief away.
But, as you may have guessed, Marcos is not a cop, but a conman himself – albeit a more professional one. Seeing potential in the wannabe scammer, Marcos offers the young swindler the opportunity to be his partner, believing that they would be more effective as a pair. Juan is initially suspicious of the older man’s intentions, but reluctantly accepts his offer. After a few petty scams, the couple eventually find themselves involved in a complicated scheme in which they are given the chance to sell counterfeits of a rare stamp collection, called The Nine Queens, for potentially big bucks.
Like with many movies involving con artists, describing the plot without giving anything away can be difficult, but it wouldn’t be spoiler to say that not everything, or everyone, are exactly what they seem. Bielinsky takes his story in all sorts of unexpected directions, sometimes feigning to go one way, but actually going in the opposite direction. It’s a technique that can make viewers feel a little foolish themselves sometimes, but I suppose getting fooled yourselves is part of the film’s fiendish charm. With the introduction of every new character and with every little plot twist, it provides a fresh perspective on where the narrative will go next.
Fabián Bielinsky was given funds to direct Nine Queens, his debut feature, after winning a screenplay festival in his native Argentina. His movie career was sadly short-lived, however. Not long after the release of his second film, El Aura, the promising director suffered a heart attack robbing the country of one of its most exciting talents. El Aura, about a taxidermist who fantasises about committing the perfect crime, is perhaps the director’s more audacious work, but there is much fun and laughs to be had in this hugely enjoyable crime thriller.