REVIEW: Argentina’s Oscar Entry ‘La Odisea de los Giles’ Is a Heist Movie Where the Poor Steal Their Money Back From the Rich

Courtesy of TIFF

It has been a busy year for films about class uprising. From Parasite to Hustlers, the running theme of working class folks fighting back against privileged elites resonates with audiences increasingly attuned to growing economic divides all over the world. With La odisea de los giles (Heroic Losers), Argentina joins the mix with its own Robin Hood tale set during the country’s economic crisis (circa 2001). Sebastián Borensztein (Kóblic, Chinese Take-Away) directs and Borensztein regular Ricardo Darín (Everybody Knows, The Secret in their Eyes) stars, though the movie flaunts a sizable ensemble cast, in part meant to communicate the moral of collective action at the story’s heart. Dabbling in suspense, tragedy and comedy as it fast-forwards through a chain of events that leads up to a grand finale explosion (no spoilers here, the spectacle is teased at the start of the movie), Heroic Losers makes for an inoffensive, risk-averse heist film riding on the charisma of its performers and the satisfaction of its anti-upper-class escapades.

Fermín (Darín) is a retired soccer star who lives with his wife, Lidia (Verónica Llinás), while their adult son, Rodrigo (Chino Darín, the real-life son of Ricardo) attends college. The couple team up with old buddy, Antonio (Luis Brandoni), to pursue a business venture: converting an old granary into an agricultural co-op that could potentially employ upward of 50 people. The story begins with a survey of the derelict building. As the trio measure up the possibilities, they’re met with the realization that the granary costs far beyond what they’re financially capable of. They’ll need investors and with that, we’re launched into a breezy, uplifting montage that sees Fermín and company appealing to their multiple neighbors who all contribute their fair share in hopes that the co-op will see an upturn in the local economy and their personal fortunes. But these events take place in the early aughts, and Argentina is on the brink of a major economic downturn — so disaster is right around the corner.

When Fermín takes the cash to the bank, a trusted employee urges him to put his spoils into a savings account instead of a lockbox. The next day the economy collapses, and a freeze is placed on all bank accounts that severely limits the permitted amounts of withdrawal. The community’s hopes are quashed and savings squandered, but soon after, Fermín learns that the entrusted banker was in cahoots with a shady businessman, Manzi (Andres Parra), who withdrew the bank’s entire savings the night before the collapse. Outrage leads to further tragedy and as anger sizzles over years of mourning and rehabilitation, Fermín and Antonio, with the help of their many investors, hatch a risqué plan to take back what’s rightfully theirs involving the infiltration of Manzi’s rural property.

Fermín serves as omniscient narrator throughout the movie, his girthy deep voice relating the flow of events in retrospect, as well as brief back stories of newly introduced characters. This perspective unifies an otherwise jumpy, meandering film. The two-hour-long runtime feels a bit fatty at times, and the presence of distracting subplots — such as a blooming romance between Rodrigo and Manzi’s pretty secretary — unnecessarily draws out preparations while diminishing a sense of urgency and tension. Save for key moments of dramatic heft, the movie never keeps too long in the same place, employing frequent cuts to create the effect of a complicated master plan being gradually assembled. A recurring musical motif is Johann Strauss II’s “The Blue Danube,” an elegant waltz featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey’s virtuosic space sequences, but here used to comedic effect considering the scrappy engineering of the self-proclaimed “loser’s” dangerous plan.

Heroic Losers lacks the slick choreography of something like Ocean’s 11, but that’s partly intentional. After all, the gang is not comprised of witty geniuses and thieves. These are for the most part bumbling underdogs from all walks of life motivated by an injustice to take drastic measures. There’s a whimsical air to the whole undertaking, heightened by pops of retro color in the costumes and mise-en-scène that situates the story in the realm of historical fantasy. The problem is that Borensztein and co-writer Eduardo Sacheri (also the author of the source novel) place too much narrative emphasis on Fermín and his family for a film that’s main distinction is its ragtag crew of untrained oddballs. The rain-soaked climax makes for a satisfying, if entirely expected, conclusion in which the “little guy” comes out on top for a change, but the long journey there is a touch too generic. Leaning further into fiction, and perhaps giving its supporting characters more to do might have enhanced the playful mythology of this unique communal effort.

La odisea de los giles (Heroic Losers) is Argentina’s submission for the Best International Film category at the 92nd Academy Awards.