'For the Money' ('Por el dinero'): Film Review

Cannes Film Festival
Avoid at all costs.

The latest film from Argentinean film collective El Pampero Cine ('La Flor') premiered in the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes.

Argentinean collective El Pampero Cine were behind the extravagant, 868-minute La Flor, a tentacular work of meta-cinema longer than a lot of TV series. That project screened at BAFICI, Locarno, Toronto and NYFF and seeing the whole thing on the big screen became a serious cinephile’s equivalent of completing a bingo card during the 2018 festival season. Their latest project is For the Money (Por el dinero), directed by La Flor’s editor, Alejo Moguillansky. The feature clocks in at a more bladder- and butt-friendly 79 minutes but it’s unlikely to inspire a similar sort of craze as their latest project, though shorter, feels terminally indulgent and at times even nonsensical rather than whimsical or inventive. Theatrical prospects look dicey and it is anyone’s guess why this was part of Paolo Moretti’s very uneven inaugural Quinzaine lineup. 

The film bills itself as a “tragedy in three acts,” and it is clear from the start why, as two lifeless figures wash ashore with bloodied faces. The audience will get to know them as part of a group of penniless actors from Argentina who went to Colombia for a theater festival to earn some money. They somehow also manage to sell their trip as a kind of reality TV idea to a new TV station, so Moguillansky can be seen as a filmmaker within his own creation, as he follows around his actors (and the young daughter of one of them), who are also playing actors. 

At this point, it might be a good idea to point out that the washed-ashore corpses lead to an unorthodox police investigation that is bien sur conducted entirely in French because — why, exactly? Naturalism is overrated? The French have more state funding for movies? Co-production or distribution or festival-selection needs would respond well to a French-speaking actor (Matthieu Perpoint)? Perhaps the screenwriters, who, besides Moguillansky and actress Luciana Acuna, also include Walter Jakob, liked Godard or some other cool French-language reference? Or is this just a random idea that managed to survive because no one could come up with a good-enough reason to reject it? It is hard to tell.

Because the characters on screen are never really developed, it is impossible to care for them or their predicament — which is saying something because we know two of them will end up dead and we still don’t care. And by playing around with things such as sound and music cues, the film keeps reminding us that what we are watching is fiction, which makes it almost impossible to become emotionally involved.

For the Money is thus a film made on a shoestring budget about people acting and making a film/mounting a theater production on a shoestring budget, and the subject of their theater production is actors’ money or rather the lack of it, so the whole thing is incredibly meta. But whereas Argentinean filmmakers such as Matias Pineiro (The Princess of France) and works like La Flor elegantly play around with genres and conventions in ways that are playful and fun and knowing, here the loopy layering reeks more of shoddily executed formal ideas at best or desperation and a total lack of ideas at worst. If anything, For the Money offers ample proof of the fact that just because something is meta doesn’t automatically mean it is interesting. 

Indeed, there’s a nagging suspicion throughout that we are watching a group of actors and filmmakers enjoy themselves but that as viewers we’re perversely being excluded from all the fun. The central theme — or at least the theme suggested by the title — is treated very superficially. Arts funding in Latin America, for example, is more complex than what's explored here and artists’ urge to create even though they will clearly not be paid for their work deserves a more in-depth appreciation than what is offered.

The project’s meta aspects — a film revolving around a theater group also producing a TV program about their project, like some kind of entertainment industry-themed Droste effect — also say very little about either TV, theater or cinema and how they are similar or different and how this ties into notions of value, compensation and even survival in the entertainment industry. It's basically a long lineup of missed opportunities, garnished with that terrible aren't-they-having-fun sensation you get when watching other people's home videos or Facebook vacation photos after they forgot to invite you along.

What we’re stuck with in the end is a group of characters we know very little about, we don’t identity with and, in the end, we couldn’t care less about. This critic could only relate to them on one level: Unlike a colleague sitting next to me who left after 20 minutes, I decided to sit through this whole film so I could review it, for the money.

Production company: El Pampero Cine
Cast: Luciana Acuna, Gabriel Chwojnik, Alejo Moguillansky, Matthieu Perpoint
Director: Alejo Moguillansky
Screenplay: Luciana Acuna, Alejo Moguillansky, Walter Jakob
Producer: Laura Citarella
Director of photography: Ines Duacastella
Editors: Alejo Moguillansky, Walter Jakob, Mariano Llinas 
Music: Gabriel Chwojnik
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)

In Spanish, French
79 minutes