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Nine Queens (15)

Review by: Simon Bell | Rating: Two

A SCAM flick from a first-time director, Nine Queens was funded after helmer Fabian Bielinsky won a script-writing competition. It went on to be a smash hit in its home country of Argentina, wiping the floor at critics awards ceremonies and pleasing crowds wherever it opened.

It focuses on a pair of gypsters, Juan (Gaston Pauls) and Marcos (Ricardo Darin) working a big time swindle that will net them millions and deliver them once and for all from their small time squalor.

They meet in a Buenos Aires convenience store where the young and wet-behind-the-ears Juan is grifting the cashier out of a large bill. It's a classic dupe, seen aplenty in Stephen Frears' homage to the seedy double-cross, The Grifters (1990), and before in Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon (1973). This time, however, it's less successful and Juan's bacon is saved only by the timely intervention of the older and more experienced Marcos.

The two then become one and soon hatch a big league plan to wheedle some rare stamps (the famous "Nine Queens" of the Weimar Republic) out of an old dying man that they can sell on.

In the meantime, the two must dodge a world full to the brim of chameleon hucksters, cheating siblings, untrustworthy accomplices and, of course, each other… Not to mention an unstable economy that has just collpased sending the country's banks into turmoil. (Tellingly, it's the authorities who seem the least principled and dependable of the lot.)

It's played out in cinema-verité, all rough cutting, long track shots and, in the end, a distinctively and deliberately unpolished style.

This is no creepy and labyrinthine House of Games or The Spanish Prisoner, but there's enough here to compare favourably with David Mamet, whom Bielinsky has obviously studied with a keen eye. Don't believe those who describe this as Argentina's answer to Amores Perros either.

In the end, it's just a shame that the final twist fails to excite or surprise.


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