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Cannes 2023: The Goldman Case, The Delinquents

Ariel Wolthalter in The Goldman CaseAriel Wolthalter in The Goldman Case

On trial in 1975 for three robberies, plus a fourth in which he’s accused of also killing two people, Pierre Goldman (Arieh Worthalter) makes his opening statement, explaining that he’s declining to call any character witnesses because he wants to be judged on the facts rather than emotional appeals. “I will stand before you in my sole innocence,” he declares, “without the pomp or theatricality” that normally accrue themselves to trials, “which disgust me.” This is very funny given that what follows is a true-story courtroom drama of nonstop rhetorical flourishes and screaming matches between opposing counsels, witnesses, the jury and anyone else who’s around. And while those are Goldman’s actual words, director Cédric Kahn explains in the press kit that Directors’ Fortnight opener The Goldman Case synthesizes a variety of materials from all over—in this case, from a letter published in Libération before Goldman’s first trial in 1969—for maximum dramatic effect.

And The Goldman Case is indeed an entertaining parade of shameless grandstanding that marks a solid comeback for Kahn. It’s been almost 20 years since three films—1998’s L’Ennui, 2001’s Roberto Succo and 2004’s Red Lights—blew up the sometime actor’s profile as a director; after that, he swiftly fell down the auteur awareness ranks via a string of lesser-noted films that began with 2006’s L’avion, in which a boy is consoled after the death of his father by a magical toy plane. Nearly two decades later, Goldman is directed by Kahn like a live TV production: three cameras, with him calling camera movements and cuts as the action unfolds almost exclusively within the courtroom. The visual language near-seamlessly simulates a documentary of the time, complete with inelegant zooms onto faces and sudden jerky pans from the speaking subject to the person interrupting them.

While committing to the nonfiction bit (there’s no score), Goldman is nonetheless a total actor showcase that derives a lot of dramatic juice from Worthalter, who looks more consistently pissed-off than any performer I’ve seen in a movie since the smolderingly miserable “I don’t want to be here” vibes Daniel Craig gave off in Spectre. Goldman’s face always rests in anger, and while his petulant explosions may be righteous they’re strategically toxic for his long-suffering celebrity lawyer Georges Kiejman (Arthur Harari). Their conflict comes to a head early, when Goldman explodes that, as a Jew who associates with black people, he’s the victim of a racist police conspiracy. “Do you imply that the French police are racist?” opposing counsel asks. “I imply and assert it,” Goldman unambiguously replies. Kiejman hastily jumps in: “My client means to say some police may have racist attitudes, not the police as a whole.” Goldman immediately scotches his effort: “No, I meant the police as a whole.” My Twitter-poisoned brain couldn’t help but observe that the subtitles for this exchange make for a tidy four screengrabs, the max the platform can support, and would presumably immediately go viral. The film is blunt and a bit of a guilty pleasure that speeds right by.

For four years, the rapper Father was signed to Sony; when his major-label time was over, he moved back home and resumed the independent hustle lifestyle. In an interview last year, he was blunt about the financial downgrade: “Retirement is done. Unless you’re rich as fucking shit. Most of us are gonna be working until we die.” That quote came back to haunt me early in Rodrigo Moreno’s Un Certain Regard title The Delinquents, a (sort-of) heist movie in which the financial stakes are considerably lower than usual for the genre. Bank employee Morán (Daniel Eliás) decides to steal a moderate amount from his workplace, doing it on camera in the full knowledge he’ll be caught; the plan is to get co-worker Román (Esteban Bigliardi) to hide the cash while Morán serves six years in prison, which will actually be just over half that after time off for good behavior . “I want a modest life,” Morán explains of his choice to steal an amount that, divided, will yield both colleagues the amount they’d earn for 25 years of white-collar labor in a mere three-and-a-half; he just doesn’t want to deal with all the drudgery. It’s no coincidence that the bank vault and the prison Morán ends up have their hallways laid out in the same way, a rhyme that’s brought home by the same actor (Germán De Silva) playing both Morán’s boss and a prisoner who extorts money for protection.

Despite this grim synopsis, The Delinquents is an overtly playful comedy, as signaled by the palindromic nature of the two main characters’ names; those letters are re-arranged even further for a love interest, Norma (Margarita Molfino), who arrives in the second part of this leisurely three-hour film, her sister Morna, and a director named Roman (Javier Zero). (In the press kit, Moreno notes that “Unfortunately I didn’t find any more anagrams with those five letters” or he would’ve kept going.) It might be a little too cute to say that this digression-heavy feature resists staying on narrative duty the way its protagonists evade capitalist drudgery—but that’s probably accurate, and I do sincerely think that making “good narrative practices” a baseline norm isn’t that far off from screaming that everyone needs to head back to the office. Morán’s theft results in the arrival of an investigating CPA (Laura Paredes) who comes to suspect Román and says bluntly what many employees suspect is the actual point of many workplaces’ power structures: “The goal is to make your life miserable.” While The Delinquents doesn’t go full story-within-story, it spends plenty of time bouncing between Morán and Román in unpredictable ways while resisting the imperative to resolve their arcs.

Moreno is an adept framer who does all kinds of low-key surprising things with space and blocking, including some inventive uses of split-screen I haven’t seen before; the film is also literally colorful and pleasant to look at. I should probably note that the plot contains a fair amount of male wish fulfillment, bringing the sitcom trope of the older dad with a ludicrously hot younger wife to a more respectable Latin American arthouse idiom. The Delinquents is also a very cinephilic film, which means that it transitions with seeming inevitability to being a film about film in several ways. I thought I was being too quick to label an overhead shot of a tequila shotglass as “Bressonian”—can’t a man do this kind of framing on his own?—but it turned out I was absolutely right, as Román repeatedly goes to watch L’Argent in a repertory theater. (More wish fulfillment: you can hear the sound of a 35mm projector showing a film that is now, as far as I know, a DCP-only title for theatrical presentation. But it’s nice to dream!) Another apparent implication of the narrative is that it seems to present microbudget filmmaking as an alternative to wage-slave drudgery, a binary which skips a few economic steps. But, despite these thematic blips and some less-compelling stretches (in his introduction, Moreno attributed its length in part to five years of production), the film always gets its momentum back and I enjoyed it very much: it’s got the formal chops and comedy I crave, a too-rare combination.

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