Crime comedy thrillers. Many have tried, a few have succeeded. Fabián Bielinsky’s Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) is definitely one of those films that have given the genre a good name. Released in 2000, this Argentinean crime comedy tells the story of two con artists who meet randomly and decide to plan the perfect scam together — to sell a fake set of rare stamps (The Nine Queens) to a wealthy stamp collector for $450,000. Whether they will make it with their sham, might just be the least of the audience’s worries and the fraud’s outcome is definitely the least of what makes this film so interesting to watch.
The reason for the ending having such minor importance — I have watched it seven times and still can’t tell you who the bad guy is — is the fact that the whole movie experience that the viewer is put through is a con. He meets the protagonists, but never really knows whether they’re good or bad — whose side they’re on or who they’re fighting. Rather, a con is constantly within a con, nothing is ever what it seems, antagonists keep popping out of everywhere and the viewer is lucky if he gets even a few seconds of merely trusting any of the characters while watching. He’s always kept hooked, he keeps getting surprised, shocked, disappointed, excited — the mood-swings never cease, the twists refuse to come to an end and no one ever knows who to cheer for. In order words, David Mamet (House Of Games, The Untouchables) would be proud.
Just as one thinks he’s figured it all out, he finds he knows nothing. Is Valeria the sister? Was the two conmen’s encounter entirely random? And which one is the Rita Pavone song that we’re all trying to remember? Who knows… Every time you think you’ve answered even one of these questions, new evidence comes to the surface. And all this in aBuenos Airesthat does its best to keep you paranoid and looking over your shoulder.
But although Nueve Reinas revolves around a very gripping action-crime plot, the film is a comedy throughout, make no mistake about that. Most reviewers and movie sites have classified it under crime/thriller/action drama, which could not be more misleading. The movie’s script is packed with fast-paced, highly amusing action together with witty and humorous lines. The characters are comically overdeveloped, with enough depth in their personalities to fit both all bad and good qualities available out there, and the direction makes this film resemble a dry, South American version of a quirky action cartoon sequence.
Ricardo Darín as Marcos and Gastón Pauls as Juan are perfect in the two main roles. The reason for this is simple — it is solely the fact that their faces can’t give away their thoughts. You never quite know what they’re thinking, whether they’re serious, afraid, upset, angry or joking. You just see those two mysterious faces, those two perfectly fraudulent men who you can’t read to save yourself. They’re as much of a riddle to each other as they are to the film’s audience. Leticia Brédice is also great in her unpredictable and full of twists part as Valeria.
Writer-director Fabián Bielinsky provides his audience with something new and entirely original in Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens). Although this is a film style that we have of course seen many times before, a premise that perhaps resembles a few too many films and a direction that one could argue has copied a number of different filmmakers’ work, this Argentinean crime comedy thriller exudes intelligence, originality and humour. Fans of Quentin Tarantino, David Mamet, Martin McDonagh and Guy Richie should have a look at this one.
Watch the trailer (in Spanish) here:
Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) at IMDb
Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) at Rotten Tomatoes
Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) at Wikipedia
Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb