Page 14


Stills from Nine Queens Son of the Bride -1,11t *IW’ flush time. But Juan is apparently so desperate for money that he accepts Marcos’ offer to join forces with him for one day. And that one day is apparently a lucky day for both of them, as the possibility’ of making a big-time scorea con involving a valuable set of stamps, the “Nine Queens”simply drops into their collective laps. I’ve said “apparently” several times already, because nothing is as it seems in Nine Queens. The seemingly clueless Juan quickly proves himself to be adept at a certain kind of bloodless crime. His boyish face has old ladies hurrying behind him in hallways, trying to force their life savings into his palm after hearing whatever sob story he’s con cocted. Juan, in fact, turns out to be a bottomless pit of surprises. Pauls is physically perfect for the role, with his blandly handsome, boyish face, which could either be a mark of his innate decency, or a cover for truly surprising darkness. Because Darin is such a compelling presence \(even more than in Son of the his Marcos is also a slippery character. On the one hand, Marcos is the model of consistency. With him you have to watch your back, your wallet, and your soul at all times. But precisely because Darin is such a convincing actor, we keep expecting his very human hustler to see the light and turn his talents toward helping others The Sting. Darin and Pauls make such a strong team that they remind you of Newman and Redford. Yet because their characters are ultimately more mysterious than were those sunny gringos played by the famous pair, the two actors make you forget them as well. Nine Queens’ plot is impossible to summarize here, because it evolves on a minute-by-minute basis. Let’s just say that its apparent moment of crisis comes when the rogue businessman to whom Marcos and Juan are trying to sell the counterfeit stamps agrees to their pricebut only if a night with Marcos’ thrown in.Yes, the brother and sister do hate each other, as the film makes clear, but still, aren’t there some things you just can’t ask your sister to do? It’s easy to see how the bad behavior in Nine Queens was read in Argentina as an allegory of local society. Debuting writer and director Fabian Bielinsky doesn’t seem to be blaming the Argentine crisis on the IMF, but rather on the Argentines themselves, perhaps for the passivity with which they let their country fall apart. This is an extraordinarily polished first film; the camera work is assured and Bielinsky draws downright brilliant acting from his entire cast. But for my money, Bielinsky plays one trick too many, and winds up giving us more explanation about his characters than I wanted, and missing a chance to peg his characters’ fates to that of the nation. Really, by the time his characters, big fat cashier’s check in hand, reach their bank just as it’s about to be stormed by a money-desperate mob, he has one of the all-time great film endings in his grasp, an equivalent to the gold-dust storm in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He lets the moment partially slip away, but for a movie with so many moves to take a single false step is hardly a crime. Or is it? David Theis is the author of Rio Ganges Houston. 6/7/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27