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Grade: BNine Queens (2000)



Director: Fabian Bielinsky


Stars: Gaston Pauls, Ricardo Darin

Release Company: Sony Pictures

MPAA Rating: R

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Nine Queens

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Near the latter part of Argentinean director Fabián Bielinsky’s Nine Queens, our protagonist pays a visit to his father, a lifelong con artist now imprisoned. The elder man doesn’t want his son playing the tricks that he taught him, and idly plays 3 card Monte variations with his son until tricking him. Like the card game con, Nine Queens will also trick you just as soon as you think you’ve figured out all the con games. The plot contains numerous twists and turns, but remains fun because of some well drawn character sketches and much more clever than recent heist films like Ocean’s Eleven. The best American comparison comes from the early seventies—when Redford and Newman played in The Sting.

Set in modern Buenos Aires, the story begins with an apparent chance meeting in a convenience store when young con Juan (Gaston Pauls) plays the old switcheroo money game with the inexperienced cashier—the one that plays change games with the money exchange so that you end up with three times the amount that you started with. A curious onlooker named Marcos (Ricardo Darin) witnesses the con and seemingly arrests Juan until out of sight of the store when he reveals that he is an experienced con man and can teach the younger man more “tricks of the trade.”

Naturally, Juan is suspicious. No one offers something for nothing. Indeed, Marcos desperately needs another partner, for he has a big score in mind. One that turns out to be even bigger and more complicated than he imagines. It involves a scandalous multi-millionaire avidly passionate about stamp collecting, a supreme old forgery expert, and a sheet of nine stamps worth a small fortune.

To reveal much more of the plot would be a disservice, for much of the enjoyment involves watching the story unfold. Despite its complicated relationships and plot turns, the film communicates them easily with a great deal of humor so that it’s very easy to follow. Audiences are sure to walk out talking about many of these twists, laughing about how they were fooled. Too bad it takes American distributors so long to get enjoyable foreign films into the arthouses. Nine Queens was actually released in foreign markets two years previous to its American debut.

The film has more charms than mere plot devices. We see primarily through Juan’s eyes, and his character becomes far more sympathetic. He’s not the same asshole that Marcos seems to be—his strength seems to be improvisation, demonstrated most directly when he bets Marcos that he can get a middle aged lady to hand over her purse within two minutes. He does so with an inventive elevator con, but doesn’t steal from the lady like Marcos would do—and that is a huge contrast between the two. Marcos will con and deceive anyone, from old ladies to family members to partners. So we’re constantly fearful that Juan will be taken advantage of, and feel heartened when he foils potential ripoffs from his more experienced partner.

Other supporting characters are memorable, and the delights come with the details. The owner of the authentic stamps is an elderly widow, who supposedly feels sentimentally attached to them because they remind her of her husband. Not true. She has a much younger blond boy toy, and would sell the stamps at the right price.

The professional counterfeiter seems to be in his last days, and desperately needs a way to get to the wealthy businessman in time. He can barely get through his meeting with the two cons before having to be dragged to the toilet to vomit. We cringe after learning how he meticulously copied the original stamps, but can only get a 10% take from his work because he can't deliver the goods himself.

 


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