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Ariel Winograd’s follow-up to the winning My First Wedding rolls together two strands that Argentinean cinema has shown it’s good at – swindle thriller and comedy romance — into a winning, unpretentious whole. Obviously made with no higher intentions than to guarantee an enjoyable couple of hours, To Fool a Thief’s cat and mouse caper about of the robbery of a bottle of vintage wine does a skillful job of pleasurably fooling the viewer, and is let down only by a lack of fizz between its leads. Business was solid in Argentina, with its mainstream blend of thrills, laughs and luxury suggesting remake potential, while it took a Special Jury prize at the Huelva festival.
In terms of twists and turns, the first 10 minutes set the bar pretty high. Sebastian (Daniel Hendler, reprising with Winograd from Wedding), aided by his nerdish, techno-whizz sidekick Chucho (Martin Piroyansky), robs an Aztec mask from a museum, only to be surprised at hearing museum worker Mariana (Valeria Bertucelli) confess that she’s stolen the same mask, and that the display one he’s stolen is a fake. Sebastian duly swaps their bags — but he’s been had, and he sets off in pursuit of Mariana.
He ends up in Mendoza, a wine-producing region in Argentina for which the film effectively doubles as a high-gloss promotional video: much has been made at home of the film’s striking locations. Sebastian’s next heist will be the robbery of an 1845 bottle of Bordeaux – according to the script, Napoleon III’s, favorite tipple. Again Mariana has gotten there before him, this time with a false bottle. But on this occasion, they’re both caught out by wine collector Basile (Juan Leyrado), who gives the pair 72 hours to recover the real bottle from the safe in the vault of the Mendoza bank where it’s being kept. Unwillingly, they agree to work together.
In other words, the film’s delivering nothing new in its blend of heist, comedy and romance. Its emphasis on snazzy suits and sunglasses, good locations, luxury and general glamor all feel like little more than a slick, inferior update to The Thomas Crown Affair, but it does what it does just fine.
Winograd and writer Adrian Garelik, debuting here at feature length, strip everything away except the story. The pleasure is not so much in the suspense, since the conclusion is pretty much a foregone conclusion, but in watching a smoothly calibrated, cat and mouse script take us there whilst all keeping one step ahead of the viewer at each new twist. Little matter that it’s pretty much implausible from first frame to last.
Comic relief comes courtesy of a couple of pleasingly hammy turns from Piroyansky and Mario Alarcon as Mariana’s wine-loving father; veteran Leyrado is suitably threatening. But the breathless forward momentum means that no time is left for viewers to find out who Sebastian and Mariana really are behind their multiple disguises, so that their romance feels like little more than another tick in the genre box.
That said, both leads are fine. A buttoned-down Hendler has the kind of unremarkable, unexpressive looks that are well suited to a professional chameleon, while Bertucelli is nicely cute and kooky as she sets about convincing Sebastian that she’s nicely cute and kooky. Separately engaging, they fail however to fizz as a team.
Dario Eskenazi’s heavy orchestral score feels like a ’60s throwback, as does the extensive use of slow motion. Indeed there are only a couple of stylistic nods to modernity, for example in an attractive little sequence in which Sebastian cinematically imagines a couple of standard ways of pulling off a bank heist. The action takes an unexpected turn after the end credits have started, while Diego Berakha and Victoria Lamas’ wonderfully elegant final graphics are well worth waiting for. The film’s Spanish title includes wine reference, and is altogether more appropriate than its bland English equivalent.
Production: Tresplanos Cine, AZ Films, Jempsa, Patagonik, Antarctica Films, Smilehood, Cinear
Cast: Daniel Hendler, Valeria Bertuccelli, Martin Piroyansky, Pablo Rago, Mario Alarcon, Alan Sabbagh, Luis Sagasti, Juan Leyrado
Director: Ariel Winograd
Screenwriter: Adrian Garelik
Producers: Ricardo Freixa, Alejandro Zito, Nathalie Cabiron
Co-producers: Juan Pablo Galli, Juan Vera, Alejandro Cacetta, Fernando Carranza, Guillermo Tita Pino, Cristián Cardoner, Mariano Gold, Mariano Suez
Director of photography: Ricardo de Angelis
Music: Dario Eskenazi
Production designer: Juan Cavia, Walter Cornas
Editor: Franciso Freixa
Sound: Jose Luis Diaz
Wardrobe: Monica Toschi
Sales: Tresplanos Cine
No rating, 105 minutes
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