Title: Nueve Reinas
English Title: Nine Queens
Country: Argentina
Language: Spanish
Director: Fabián Bielinsky
Writer: Fabián Bielinsky
Runtime: 113(UK), 114(US), 115(Canada)

Gáston Pauls - Juan
Ricardo Darín - Marcos
Leticia Brédice - Valeria
Tomás Fonzi - Federico
Óscar Núñez - Sandler
Ignasi Abadal - Vidal Gandolfo
Elsa Berenguer - Berta

Juan is caught pulling a minor confidence trick in a gas station and helped out of the situation by Marcos, a stranger posing as a police officer. The two start talking and Marcos reveals himself to be a fellow swindler with much higher ambitions. Juan and Marcos join forces for the day, pulling small scale scams on anyone they can. Marcos receives a call from an aging ex-associate who needs help with a major scheme - selling a forged set of rare stamps to a wealthy businessman before he is deported. As Marcos' family become entwined in the deal, and Juan and Marcos' life savings are thrown in, it becomes more and more difficult to work out who is the conner and who is the connee.

Warning: Your enjoyment of the film will probably be lessened by reading any further. I give away major plot points and twists as well as the ending - so be warned (think the sixth sense which I haven't seen but have had spoiled).
The film starts as Juan enters a gas station, picks up a couple of tins and pulls off a change scam (his goods come to $5, he pays with a fifty, gets his change then pulls out a $5 bill, gets his $50 back and then counts out his fifty, his change and his five (which comes to $100) and asks for a $100 bill - this gives him $45 profit). The cashier's shift ends and he attempts to pull the scam again. Obviously, it's noticed and the police are mentioned. Marcos, who has been in the store all along, pretends to be a police officer and escorts Juan from the premises, along with the money (as evidence?). The two start talking and it becomes obvious that Marcos is also a confidence trickster and needs a partner. They join forces for the day and pull off a few cheap tricks (cash off an old lady by pretending to be her nephew, change for a $100 in a cafe by tearing the corner off a bill etc.), and Juan explains that his father is in prison and needs $70,000 (why is never fully explained).

Marcus receives a call from his sister and the two make their way to the hotel where she works. On arrival, it's immediately clear that Marcos is not on the best of terms with his sibling and is lead to an old man who has apparently been asking for him. The man is Sandler, an ex-associate of Marcos' who seems to be close to death. He relays the basic idea behind a scam he has planned:
A wealthy businessman called Vidal Gandolfo, who is to be deported from Argentina the next day, is known to be an avid stamp collector. Sandler is an 'artist' (fake passports etc...) and has produced a forged copy of the 'Nine Queens' - a set of nine incredibly rare stamps (the originals of which are owned by Sandler's sister, Berta (who won't sell them as they remind her of her father) - presumably this is how he made such good copies) which he knows Gandolfo will want to buy (Sandler suggests a figure around $30,000).
The forged stamps are not good enough to pass a lab test, so Gandolfo's lack of time before deportation is perfect. The stamps are located in Sandler's house, so the two make their way there, while Sandler is taken to hospital. Sandler's wife is reluctant to let the pair have the forged stamps and suggests they wait for Sandler's return. Obviously, they do not have the time, so Juan pulls a confidence trick by pulling at the old ladies heart strings and she relents.

Juan and Marcos now devise a way to actually get in contact with Vidal Gandolfo - they wait in the hotel lobby until he makes a trip to the bathroom. Marcos follows him in while having a loud and massively unsubtle conversation about the sale of the Nine Queens on a mobile phone. A police officer enters the bathroom and immediately starts harrassing Marcos about his reasons for being in the hotel and Gandolfo helps out by saying that Marcos is there to see him. The 'police officer' pulls Marcos out of the bathroom - it transpires that the two clearly know each other and Marcos pays his accomplice. The three men then go to Gandolfo's hotel room and discuss the stamps. Gandolfo has a stamp expert check them out who confirms they are the real thing and a deal is offered at $450,000. The two are to return to the hotel later that evening.

During this trip to the hotel, Marcos' sister, Valeria, talks to Marcos about a legal battle they are having over their late grandfather's estate. It appears that Marcos has scammed his own sister and brother, Federico (who also works at the hotel, and looks up to Marcos, knowing nothing of the whole grandfather thing), out of their inheritance.

Juan and Marcos leave the hotel in a daze (neither was expecting quite such a large deal) and are confronted by Gandolfo's stamp expert, who explains that the stamps are obviously fakes and wants a cut of the profits. They reluctantly agree and as they walk along, two thieves on motorbikes grab the briefcase containing the stamps. A chase ensues and the stamps end up in the river. The deal is seemingly off, but neither man is willing to give up and they decide to try to buy the original stamps off Berta (hoping she doesn't know their true value) and sell them on.

A trip to Berta's reveals that she has no problem selling the stamps, but knows they're worth more than $10,000 (the first offer). They settle on $250,000 (with a little help from Berta's bizarre bleach-blond boyfriend) and the two scrape together the cash (Juan has $50,000 saved for his father, while Marcos has $200,000 from his grandfather's estate) only after Juan has made it clear that he thinks Marcos is probably trying to scamming him.

Juan and Marcos return to the hotel with the (real) stamps, ready to seal the deal, but Gandolfo has other plans. He says the deal is only still on if Marcos can persuade Valeria to spend an evening with him (think Indecent Proposal). Valeria agrees only if Marcos tells Federico the truth behind his grandfather's will. Federico is clearly unimpressed and knees Marcos in a rather painful way. Valeria goes off with the stamps, has her evening of pleasure with Gandolfo and returns with a cheque for $450,000. Unimpressed (they were expecting cash), the two go to the nearest bank where there appears to be a mini-riot going on. The bank has closed and is not honouring any cheques. It then appears this is the end. Both men have lost their savings, and have no-one to turn to (Gandolfo has been deported).

The last scene of the film opens as Juan walks into a warehouse. The camera pans down onto a table where there is a game of poker going on (none of the players are revealed), and a pack of cigars called the Nine Queens is revealed. The camera zooms out and we see Berta, Vidal Gandolfo, Sandler and the stamp expert (among others). It is explained that someone on the inside told Juan about the imminent closure of the bank and the whole scheme was devised around this. Juan walks over to a couch where Valeria (holding a bag full of money) is relaxing and the two embrace.


Is anyone still awake out there?
Sorry, didn't mean to go on quite so much. You know how it is - you get started and it just grows. You don't want to leave anything out unless it doesn't make sense any more. Oh well. Anyway...
Is the film any good? Why yes - it works spectacularly well. You're left guessing at every stage as twist after twist is revealed. Perhaps you are lead to believe that Juan is being conned by Marcos a little too much and a little too obviously, but this is plausible as both men attempt to scam each other. It is certainly not obvious until the close that almost every character is on it (there are definite similarities to The Sting and Maverick (I've been told, haven't seen it myself) here). The acting (from a collection who will certainly not be known outside Argentina) is tight and believable and the script almost flawless. The director (in only his second film) controls the action well and is definitely one to watch (if Alfonso Cuarón can be chosen to direct the third Harry Potter film, anything can happen).

Highly recommended - catch it if you can (although the release is very limited, appears to be only one cinema in London showing it).

I wasn't sure whether to node this under Nueve Reinas or Nine Queens, but decided that the majority of E2 members would be searching on the English title, if at all. /msg me if you think I made the wrong choice.
Nueve Reinas is now firmlinked here - Yay!

the mighty imdb.com
my own viewing of the film