Halfway into The Delinquents, a character named Roman randomly meets three new characters. They just happen to be called Morna, Norma, and Ramon. From here on, we see a very different film from what we were seeing before. It almost feels like two very different kinds of films conjoined together, but it can also be said that the two halves complement each other. Rodrigo Moreno’s 2023 film, which happens to be the official Argentine entry in the “best international feature” category at the upcoming Oscars, is a heist film at its core, with additional layers of a love triangle as well as a very specific kind of social commentary. True to its title, which basically means people who break the law, The Delinquents is centered on a crime, but the direction it takes is not something you would see coming. The runtime does seem a bit too much at times, but it mostly works, thanks to the performances and Moreno’s direction.
Who’s Moran, And What Crime Does He Commit?
In what should probably be considered one of the most unceremonious heists ever performed on the silver screen, bank employee Moran steals a lot of money from his own bank. The crime is very much pre-planned, as the amount he takes away is exactly double what he would earn until his retirement. On the day Moran executes the plan, his colleague, Roman, takes the day off due to some illness. We do see Roman with a neck brace early on in the film, which implies the man had some sort of accident and is in recovery.
Why Does He Do It?
As I said, Moran’s crime is premeditated, and he has a reason for committing it. Albeit peculiar, there is some logic behind serving a three-year sentence in prison compared to working more than twenty years in the bank, clocking in and out five or six days every week. The narrative gets even more intriguing when Moran very casually asks Roman to keep the stolen money and offers him half of the share. All Roman has to do is safeguard the money until Moran is released from prison, which should be approximately three and a half years.
What Happens To Roman?
Although skeptical at first, Roman does accept the proposal. However, keeping such a huge secret (and the bag full of cash) takes a huge toll on him. He gets severely anxious, has a really hard time at work, and continues to have sleepless nights. The bank manager, Del Toro, brings in this fraud investigator, Laura, who starts breathing down everyone’s neck, which makes the situation even worse for Roman. His relationship with his music teacher girlfriend, Flor, also gets affected. Meanwhile, Moran has to deal with his own trouble inside the prison as this guy called Garrincha demands money from him in order to keep him protected. Garrincha is what you call the “top dog” in prison, so Moran has no choice but to pay him off. And he obviously has to get Roman to help him with the job. So when Roman visits Moran in prison and vents about his anxiety, Moran comes up with a set of instructions that would work out for both of them and potentially change Roman’s life.
What Roman has to do this time is first deposit some money into Garrincha’s account, then travel to the hills of Cordoba and hide the money under a very specific rock, for which he actually needs to do a moderate amount of climbing as well. But given that this would at least take away the headache of keeping the cash right at his home, Roman happily commits to the idea. As per the plan, he goes to the place and hides the money exactly as Moran instructed him to do it. While coming down from the peak in a hurry, he suffers a small accident and hurts his head. Seeing Roman in that condition, three random people who were hanging out around the lake nearby offered to help. Roman declines and tries to get away from them, which any person in his situation would ideally do, but the trio keeps insisting that he join them in their picnic. They even offer to drop him off at the bus that he would catch at night. Roman eventually gives in, and surprisingly, he ends up having a great time with the trio—filmmaker Ramon and sisters Morna and Norma—who are helping Ramon make some kind of film about gardens. This is where the narrative takes a tonal shift, and we see Roman happy for the first time in the film. There’s also an instant attraction between Roman and Norma, as the two of them find it really difficult to let each other go. Norma even suggests she should be going with Roman, but he declines with a heavy heart.
Does Moran Succeed With His Plan?
As a public sector employee who has to go through the nine-to-five thing, I could totally sympathize with Moran’s perspective. Sure, I wouldn’t dare to do what he did here, but then again, Moran got the opportunity because he happens to work at a bank as a treasurer. The entire film and its plot are a representation of how meaningless the life of the working class is; where we are waking up every day and going to work so that we can pay our bills and sometimes indulge in vacations or small luxuries. Life passes us by this way, and we are unable to do anything. Just like Moran and Roman, we are also victims of capitalism, and our lives are no less than sentences we’re serving. The movie makes a very wise choice by using the same actor for bank manager Del Toro and “top dog” Garrincha (yes, named after the Brazilian football legend). It only implies that there’s not much difference between these two characters, both of whom keep men like Moran under their thumbs.
I’m sure you all have noticed the names of the five primary characters, which are all five possible anagrams of the same five letters. This is obviously not a mere coincidence, as I believe director Moreno purposefully did that in order to establish the fact that everyone is basically the same person, aspiration-wise. While Ramon, Morna, and Norma have successfully managed to get themselves out of the bounds of “conventional life,” Roman and Moran would do anything to get there. It is only logical that, like Roman, Moran would also fall for someone like Norma. This is where The Delinquents surprises the audience, though, by introducing this bit of excitement in the final act. Years have gone by, and Moran is now about to get out, as things have gone exactly as planned. Meanwhile, Roman is very much in love, and the two of them are very happy together, painting their unabashed romance all over the city of Buenos Aires. Roman has never been this happy, and all he needs now is to quit his job and ride off into the sunset with Norma. But his life turns upside down when Moran requests that he deliver a letter to his beloved, who lives in the hills. Roman realizes that this person happens to be no one but Norma. Through an extended flashback, we see Moran traveling to the hills of Cordoba, meeting the same trio Roman would eventually meet, and falling head over heels for Norma. Just like Roman, he is also extremely happy and content with Norma and the life in the hills, where he doesn’t have to go to work and see the same boring people every single day.
At the end of The Delinquents, things would have been absolutely perfect if Moran and Roman hadn’t fallen for the same woman, but for the film to make complete sense, it had to be like this. The character of Norma represents a free spirit, something that both the men who fell for her were looking for. Moran and Roman never felt more alive than when they were with her. But when Norma gets to know about the whole thing from Roman, she unsurprisingly takes off, as for her, being with either of these two wouldn’t make any sense. However, that doesn’t stop either of the men from going back to the hills. We don’t get to see Norma, her sister, or filmmaker Ramon this time around, and we also don’t get to witness Moran and Roman together. There’s a sense of ambiguity, but given that Moran is out of prison and Roman has finally resigned from the bank job that he always hated, we can reach the conclusion that Moran’s plan actually worked out. Up ahead is a life of uncertainty for both of these men, but I’m pretty certain they rolled the dice considering that as well. And most importantly, they still have the money in hand, which would certainly come in handy in the future.