Nine Queens

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Nine Queens

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Nine Queens

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"Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money," goes a much-parsed bit of wisdom from David Mamet's Heist. Accepted without much analysis, that aphorism makes a great deal of sense; its circular logic acts as its own proof. Though conceived, shot, and released before Heist, the Mamet-esque Nine Queens attempts to get inside that circle by sending its characters in pursuit of money whose value seems to vary depending on circumstance. The promising directorial debut of writer-director Fabían Bielinsky, the film establishes a sense of bottomless deception with its first scene, in which a baby-faced short-change artist (Gastón Pauls) unsuccessfully attempts to pull back-to-back scams in the same store. Arrested by Ricardo Darín, Pauls soon discovers he's in the company of a fellow con, and that he's been bailed out as a token of professional courtesy and possibly as a partner in a new scam. The film takes its title from a McGuffin introduced relatively late in the film: an unbroken sheet of rare German stamps from the Weimar era. Eventually, the new duo focuses intently on those stamps, but first they spend much of the day simply wandering about the city, learning each other's abilities through a succession of cons. "You look like a nice guy," Darín tells Pauls, summing up the latter's greatest strength as a con artist. Darín doesn't look like (and, in fact, isn't) a nice guy, but as the day unfolds, he proves that he and Pauls make a good team, even if their mutual trust extends only as far as the latest wrinkle in their scheme. ("I unilaterally adjusted dividends," Darín says, explaining his split with his last partner.) Bielinsky's debut is a fine con picture, but at its best, it achieves even more, presenting the profession as a lifestyle with almost existential ramifications. Every aspect of the plot doesn't stand to reason, but the drive of Nine Queens' poetic logic makes up for it. The film's Argentinean origins would be more significant if the 2000 film didn't predate the country's current economic problems. As is, its implied connection between the bankruptcy of its characters' pursuits and a national crisis simply seems prescient, or maybe just universal.

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