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'Nine Queens'

Look at small-time crooks in Argentina

Friday, June 21, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

David Mamet might want to run out and snap up the rights for the American remake of "Nine Queens," a movie from Argentina about his favorite subject, con men.


RATING: R for language; subtitled

STARRING: Ricardo Darin, Gaston Pauls

DIRECTOR: Fabian Bielinsky



Now at the Regent Square Theater, "Nine Queens" begins with a pair of cons pulling a pair of cons -- Juan (Gaston Pauls) pulls the old bill-changing scam once too often in a convenience store and Marcos (Ricardo Darin, whom we just saw in "Son of the Bride") rescues him by pretending to be a cop.

Juan is a young man who doesn't seem to have the ruthlessness for the game, which he learned from his father. Marcos, who is older than Juan and seems more experienced, invites him to spend the day as his partner. They do a variety of small games -- conning money from old ladies, scamming a restaurant, that sort of thing.

But then Marcos is summoned by his old partner, Sandler (Oscar Nunez), who has collapsed in a hotel that employs Marcos' sister, Valeria (Leticia Bredice). The rivalry between the siblings is at a fever pitch because of a lawsuit over an inheritance.

It turns out Sandler has targeted a really big game -- selling forged copies of some valuable stamps called the Nine Queens to a man named Gandolfo (Ignasi Abadal), who will pay handsomely for them but won't have time to properly check their authenticity.

It gets more complicated, of course, to the point where no one seems sure as to just who is being conned. Juan voices suspicions of Marcos. Gandolfo demands conditions of his own. Sandler's wife (Celia Juarez) wants in on the scam, and she's not the only one.

Director Fabian Bielinsky, who got the movie made by winning a screenwriting contest, sets all the chicanery amid the authenticity of street locations in Buenos Aires. Then again, this is a country in financial chaos blamed upon those in power.

Who do you trust? Who can you trust? Marcos suggests that everyone lies, everyone's a crook. Con men wouldn't succeed except by appealing to the greed of their marks -- and maybe they get blinded by their own.

And, of course, Bielinsky's manipulating us into seeing what he wants us to see -- or maybe what we want to believe we're seeing, just like any good con man or Mamet's magician pal Ricky Jay. The difference is that we enjoy the con, and it only costs us the price of admission.

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