When films are described as influenced by Quentin Tarantino, people usually think of blackly comic violent clinches, colourful verbal obscenity and disordered narrative chronology.
There is, however a quieter aspect of Tarantino's method which is highly endearing. It is his emphasis on walking. When characters hit the pavement in his films, their path often takes them from an everyday situation into an outrageously fictional one, and then back out again.
It is the walking which makes this engaging Argentinean film – later remade in America as Criminal (2004) – so Tarantino-esque. Two swindlers, Marcos (Ricardo Darín) and Juan (Gastón Pauls), spend their hours together walking as they talk. Their journey offers, in the background, an understated documentary on contemporary Buenos Aires.
But, as they imagine the scams they might pull, the literal steps taken by Marcos and Juan always propel them into the more charged space of a fiction.
A grand fiction begins to take place the moment that Marcos takes the reluctant Juan into a luxury hotel to greet the uptight, ultra-efficient Valeria (Leticia Brédice), Marcos' sister. Valeria wants nothing to do with her brother's wicked behaviour, which not only endangers her own job but also tears apart their family.
Debut feature director Fabián Bielinsky maintains a clever, firm balance between the mundane and the thrilling. Much of the film, for example, eschews a musical score, giving extra weight to the passing seconds and the obsessive walking. But when music is finally allowed in, the effect carries a more energetic wallop than in most bigger-budget caper movies.
Bielinsky clearly adores the Hollywood classics by Billy Wilder or Joseph Mankiewicz concerning elaborate double-crossing deceits. Juan learns early on not to take at face value whatever misfortune occurs on the street, since it could so easily be a con or betrayal engineered by the shifty Marcos.
This tightly plotted and well-controlled film courts the risk, inherent in this type of story, of creating an ever-escalating spiral of one-upmanship. But Bielinsky has a special trump card up his sleeve, and that is the reality factor. The moment in which Argentina's dire economic crisis intervenes in this fanciful tale is a real highlight.
© Adrian Martin September 2002