“People that follow the rules end up being synonyms for fool”
Observing the domino effect of world history unfolding, past economic disasters around the world seem to be easily replaced by new ones, leaving the people to count their losses and deal with the trauma of a system that is bound to fail, until it finally collapses. Sebastián Borensztein’s Heroic Losers (Spanish: La odisea de los giles, 2019), based on Eduardo Sacheri’s novel The Night of the Heroic Losers (Spanish: La noche de la Usina), reflects on the times of Corralito, the nightmarish account freeze introduced by the Argentinean government at the end of 2001, paralysing the country for a whole year amidst its great depression. In a comedic, Robin Hood-style adventure, the losers – or giles – of the lower classes unite to fight injustice and corruption with a heist full of virtue, a touch of lost socialism, and jocular moments.
Set in a small rural town near Buenos Aires, middle-aged couple Fermín (Ricardo Darín) and his wife Lidia (Verónica Llinás) decide to buy and run an old silo by starting a cooperative with the help of their friends and locals. The crowdfunded 150,000 dollars are deposited into an account. Then, a severe lockdown on bank accounts is imposed across the country, leaving the aspiring crowd in sheer fainting mode. To make their despair worse, our protagonists find out that Manzi (Andrés Parra), a corrupted lawyer, has fleeced them of their life savings and buried the money in an underground vault. Now Fermín and his son Rodrigo (who happens to be Darin’s real life son, Chino Darín) must change their naive way of thinking and living, and take matters into their own hands.
In times of recurring financial turmoil, such films have little to offer, but they do provide an insight into the past, and the stark realisation that we need more humour and less melodrama to fight the deep, dark hole we’re in. Borensztein offers a masterfully lighthearted heist film that only loses its appeal when it momentarily delves too much into the drama side of things.
Managing to escape most moralistic traps, the film explores William Wyler’s iconic How To Steal a Million (1966), with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. Not in a copycat way, but rather as a source of inspiration for our protagonists, who are fascinated by this old heist film and will use it to bring justice to their world. Both the photography and montage are blended in such a way that despite the poor lives of our heroes, there is no sign of misery or the bleak reality. The film would have surely received more attention from international audiences if the background story of the financial situation of the country had been better presented in the first part of the film. Nonetheless, it’s easy to empathise with the characters from the very start, and join them on their odyssey (from the original title) to find justice in the fields of rural Argentina.
Ricardo Darín leads in his usual charismatic way, while the rest of the local cast embody their roles in an honest, yet borderline caricature way that saves the film from the bumps the melodramatic music raises here and there. The personal tragedies and shattered dreams try to give way to a paced, black comedy in an attempt to scold the true criminals of contemporary society. Yet, sometimes the otherwise witty dialogue hiccups. The momentum is somewhat lost towards the end, despite the ever-welcome Robin Hood idea of sociopolitical catharsis. The lack of a purely scolding, satirical setting and undertone should not stop you from watching it, however.