A prominent representative of the New Argentinian Cinema movement, Rodrigo Moreno’s latest effort The Delinquents follows Morán and Román, two bank clerks who end up questioning the tedious life they carry out in Buenos Aires. One day, Morán steals a large sum of money from the bank, and then hands himself over to the police, knowing that he will spend three years in prison and then finally be free for life. Meanwhile, Román agrees to keep the money hidden until his colleague’s release and tries not to get caught himself.
After a tormented production process that took almost five years, the Argentinian-Brazilian-Luxembourgish crime dramedy was finally world premiered in the Un Certain Regard strand at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where we sat down with Moreno to discuss his new feature.
Projektor: How did the idea come about?
Moreno: The idea has something to do with an old 1949 film, Hugo Fregonese’s Apenas un delincuente. I picked the initial premise of the movie as a starting point but with the idea of going beyond—a [type of] “beyond” I’m much more interested in, which deals with idea of dismantling genres. If you would have read the script, you would say it looked like a comedy. I wanted to make a comedy and “dismantle” it, but I also wanted to make a thriller boasting a bank robbery and “dismantle” [again]… and then reach a more existential realm. [I wondered:] What is behind the actions? What’s behind a genre?
In this sense, I built a script that deals with an idea that is present in my other previous films, and that is the idea of work as a sort of fate, of prison. As if work would force us to be a certain way for the rest of our lives. And that’s what comes out through the character of Morán [Daniel Eliás], this destiny seems already written for him. [The question is:] “I’ll work for the rest of my life, but if I don’t do that, what’s gonna happen?” [But] the movie moves onto more playful ground, it’s a very playful film. [For example,] the idea of [the characters’] names being anagrams of each other is based on a very playful idea, it’s not philosophical at all. You can find something philosophical in something playful, but it’s never the starting point.
Why did you decide to split the film into two parts?
The idea of splitting the movie into two parts emerged during the editing process; it wasn’t present in the script. I’ve spent many years editing and filming… I reached a moment during which I was bored myself. I needed to find some twists through the footage, and I got this idea of working on two parts. I had thought about placing an intermission, but Cannes refused. We offered to screen it in two parts of 90 minutes each, so that people could take a breath, go to the toilet, and have a look at their mobiles. Nowadays it’s hard for people to spend three hours without looking at their mobiles. The gain of screening it with no intermission is that the movie asks you not to look at it for three hours. [I was curious to see] what happens if you focus on a film that actually speaks about this, about how we use time. I think this [idea] is playful, too.
Cinema works with the present, always. The goal of cinema is present tense.
How did you pick the two leads, and how did you work together on developing their characters?
I don’t trust the work of character development much, and I don’t know if I’ve ever said, “Let’s develop a character.” I chose [the actors] after imagining Daniel and Esteban [Bigliardi] as Morán and Román. I’m never interested in psychological development. I focused more on creating the conditions in which they could act freely, in the freest way possible. Then it’s all about making some adjustments, putting some touches, correcting something along the way. The action takes place in the present tense. I believe much more in the present tense of acting than in character development. I mean, I admire very much Robert De Niro or Marlon Brando, all their preparation work. But today we need something more immediate in terms of the actor’s work.
What is prepared beforehand is the narrative fate of Morán and Román, that’s for sure, and even though it’s [already] been written, it’s [still] being changed. And why does it change? Because cinema works with the present, always. The goal of cinema is present tense. When we write a script, you don’t write, “Davide entered the room,” but “Davide enters the room.” Filming over five years, you start changing what you’d thought before, which is not valid anymore. So we kept on “updating” the plot and the characters’ decisions. In this sense, the process has been very enriching.
Could you please elaborate on your work with the score? It plays a prominent role in so many scenes with no dialogue, and it imbues them with a very peculiar cinematic atmosphere.
All the music [present in the film] is by Astor Piazzolla and Francis Poulenc. I used pre-existing music as if it was composed purposely for the film. I discovered a symphony by Astor Piazzolla, who is Argentina’s—or at least Buenos Aires’—most prominent musician, and it had nothing to do with tango. Those tracks felt more “contemporary” and resembled the score made by a composer from the 1940s or the 1950s. When I found that “tonality,” I told myself, “Here we go!”