'The Moneychanger': Film Review | TIFF 2019

Courtesy of Film Factory Entertainment
Capital pains.

A dapper grifter turns free-flowing cash into transient gold in Uruguayan director Federico Veiroj's thin dramedy.

Money can't buy you love, but Humberto Brause (Daniel Hendler) doesn't care for such sentiment. To this chicly dressed grifter, cash is the only true beloved. For the two decades (1950s-1970s) covered in Federico Veiroj's lightweight dark comedy, The Moneychanger, Brause takes advantage of the lax economic oversight in his home country of Uruguay. From his office in Montevideo and on numerous trips abroad, he oversees the buying and selling of currency itself, lining his own pockets (often literally whenever he crosses borders) and living the high life.

Or at least trying to live the high life. The thing about such deviously maintained affluence is that it can eat away at the soul, even one as compromised as Brause's. There's little sense that he enjoys his ill-gotten gains, more that he's chasing the intoxication of a taste developed in youth. An early flashback details his mentoring by his future father-in-law, the slightly more respectable and business-conscious Sr. Schweinsteiger (Luis Machín). Hendler, sans the gray-flecked hair and porn-star 'stache he wears through most of the film, also plays this younger iteration of Brause. And he adeptly conveys the paranoid skittishness that the character, as he gets older and more manipulative, goes to great lengths to conceal beneath a dapper veneer.

Brause is not a natural confidence man, and what intrigues throughout is how something always feels off about him, especially when he's feigning poise and self-possession. His resilient wife, Gudrun (Dolores Fonzi), is one of the few who sees through him, and in a blackly funny scene she turns the ill-treatment he's meted out (his lust not only for money but for other women) against him, defiantly riding him to orgasm while he's convalescing in a hospital. It's a ribald flourish that Buñuel might appreciate, though the pic disappointingly, and with rare exception, tends to stick to the middle of the road.

Veiroj, who adapted the film with co-screenwriters Arauco Hernández and Martín Mauregui from a 1979 novel (Así Habló El Cambista) by Juan Enrique Gruber, clearly has a scornful fascination with Brause. Did the world, as well as his unscrupulously governed homeland, make him as he is, or is he merely following some innate human urge to consume and accumulate? Maybe it's a bit of both; at macro and micro levels, and despite his weak-willed neuroticism, Brause is irredeemably venal.

Karma, in a way, comes to bear: A good portion of The Moneychanger takes place in smoky interiors that cinematographer Arauco Hernández Holz photographs in steady, stately compositions, as if the protagonist and everyone in his orbit is trapped in a gold-plated purgatory. Yet the images, and the actions within them, lack the acerbic edge that would really drive the knife in. Much like Brause himself, the film tends toward the handsome, yet hollow. The one exception is a final shot that strives for and attains a gilded-cage Sirkian grandeur. Its savagely pointed power resonates back through the movie, though not to the point of offsetting the tedium it takes to get there.

Production companies: Cimarron, Rizoma, Pandora Filmproduktion
Cast: Daniel Hendler, Dolores Fonzi, Luís Machín, Germán De Silva, Benjamín Vicuña
Director: Federico Veiroj
Screenwriters: Arauco Hernández, Martín Mauregui, Federico Veiroj

Cinematographer: Arauco Hernández
Editors: Fernando Franco, Fernando Epstein
Executive producers: Natacha Cervi, Santiago López, Hernán Musaluppi
Producers: Diego Robino, Natacha Cervi, Santiago López, Hernán Musaluppi, Christoph Friedel, Claudia Steffen
Production designer: Pablo Maestre Galli
Sound: Catriel Vildosola
Score: Hernán Segret
Publicist: Film Factory Entertainment

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Platform)

97 minutes