'Heroic Losers' ('La odisea de los giles'): Film Review | TIFF 2019

Courtesy of TIFF
A light bit of anti-fatcat wish-fulfillment.

Sebastian Borensztein's caper film sets plebeians against plutocrats during Argentina's great depression.

Neither real-world economic catastrophe nor personal trauma lends much gravitas to Heroic Losers, Sebastian Borensztein's story of Robin Hoods in the Argentine countryside who scheme to take back what's theirs. And since we're approaching two decades since the upheaval that inspires this light caper, it's unlikely viewers will complain: Who wants to dredge up the grief of old bankruptcies in a world facing much more confusing conflicts between populists and institutions? The reliably likable Ricardo Darin leads a scrappy cast here, making the import accessible to fans of The Secret in Their Eyes; its unchallenging vibe will play best to older art house patrons, whether they find it in theaters or on video.

We meet Darin's Fermin, a onetime football star, as he stands with his wife Lidia (Veronica Llinas) and his pal Antonio (Luis Brandoni) at the site of a possible new business. Fermin wants to buy an abandoned grain silo and form an agricultural co-op, so farmers in his small town won't be at the whims of market prices. "This is the best time" for such a venture, he assures them, before a title card provides the punchline: "Argentina, August 2001."

Fermin and Antonio embark on a colorful attempt to sign up local oddballs for the project, collecting each man's life savings (always a stash of U.S. dollars) and, with the help of local business success Carmen (Rita Cortese), getting close to the asking price for the site. Fermin takes the bounty to his bank — where he intends to put it in a lockbox, but the banker he trusts pressures him into opening an account. The next day comes the collapse: all bank accounts frozen, with clients only allowed to withdraw a pittance, 250 pesos, each week.

As the nation reels, Fermin learns that his banker had inside knowledge: He let a friend named Manzi (Andres Parra) withdraw a fortune in U.S. dollars, including all the co-op's savings, from the bank the night before the collapse. A furious Fermin gets in a car wreck. Lidia is killed, and by the time he's out of the hospital, the country has seen five presidents come and go.

Then a coincidence reveals the location of a vault Manzi has had constructed, hidden out on some ranchland he owns, and a heist plan is hatched. Now Fermin's the reluctant one, with the committed anarchist Antonio the biggest proponent, and most other investors joining enthusiastically. (If this were Ocean's Eleven, Antonio would be the Carl Reiner character — a lovable codger whose health worries lend a shred of drama to the plan once it's set in motion.)

Borensztein and Eduardo Sacheri's screenplay (based on the latter's novel) makes the robbery scheme a loopy challenge — a game of long-con behavior prediction where one suspects mere sabotage might've worked. But that conceit gives the movie scenes of amusing exasperation, in which its straw-man villain looks to others like he's going crazy. It also ensures that the good guys' inside man, Fermin's son Rodrigo (Chino Darin, who actually is Ricardo Darin's son), gets to spend enough time lurking around Manzi's office to develop a sweet flirtation with his secretary, Florencia (Ailín Zaninovich).

That potential romance is a highlight in the film, which doesn't often find enough for its side characters to do. (Again, the Ocean's pics are a revealing point of comparison.) But as they build to the main event, the filmmakers offer enough small surprises to engage us. We never needed a reason to root for these self-described Losers, but it's still a pleasure to see them get the satisfaction their real-world counterparts had to live without.

Production companies: K&S Films, Mod, Kenya Films
Cast: Ricardo Darín, Luis Brandoni, Chino Darín, Verónica Llinás, Daniel Aráoz, Carlos Belloso, Rita Cortese, Andrés Parra, Ailín Zaninovich
Director: Sebastian Borensztein
Screenwriters: Sebastian Borensztein, Eduardo Sacheri
Producers: Hugo Sigman, Ricardo Darín, Matias Mosteirin, Chino Darín, Federico Posternak, Leticia Cristi, Fernando Bovaira, Simón de Santiago
Executive producers: Micky Buye, Javier Braier
Director of photography: Rodrigo Pulpeiro
Production designer: Daniel Gimelberg
Editor: Alejandro Carrillo Penovi
Composer: Federico Jusid
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Sales: Film Factory

In Spanish
Rated PG, 117 minutes