What at first seems like a shaggy dog story might become a very old-fashioned wistful tale of lost romance, or an amusing crime caper. The truth is Argentinean director Rodrigo Grande's 2001 film Rosarigasinos slyly blends many genres, constructing a constantly surprising experience wherein fate and friendship aren't always the best match.
Rosarigasinos (Gangs of Rosario) finds two mobsters released from the Rosario prison 30 years after their incarceration. Tall, dapper Tito (Federico Luppi) and short, balding Castor (Ulises Dumont) find themselves stranded outside the stir on a rainy night. Vague confusion and difficulty lighting cigarettes mark their first night of freedom in three decades. Once members of a ballad-slinging jazz combo, (Tito on vocals and Castor on drums) the two wonder on the whereabouts of their old cohorts - gentlemen not only musically linked, but also in cahoots crime-wise. Nothing much is terribly explicit, but when Tito and Castor go straight from the pokey to a gin-joint gig, none of their buddies are to be found. As Tito sings and Castor plays a small accordion, visions of Tito's past and a tempestuous love-affair scroll by - the machinations of the rambling plot begin falling into their respective gear-slots.
Any more detail would spoil most of the fun. Delight comes from constantly shifting expectations: early scenes composite a montage of ex-prison-mates doling out anecdotes in such a way that we expect nothing to come of this. We're led to expect a caper going nowhere. Then the songs come into play. Tito and Castor don't quite possess the power of their original combo in its prime, but their tale still transports - it's off-putting, and we wonder what it has to do with now. Moreover, Tito and Castor form an ageless, comedic Mutt and Jeff pair, riffing off each other, while the film itself partakes of much overt and subtle humor. When Tito sits in a car during a stakeout, two ladies stop to talk directly in his sightline, forcing him to start up and move about ten feet from his parking spot on a deserted country road - just another clever bit of misdirection.
Director Grande keeps things constantly evolving, switching back and forth between the present and Tito's reminiscences, advancing the plot in non-linear ways. For each goofball routine or bawdy sexual joke comes a bit of jarring violence or misfortune. Coincidence is shifted and loyalty tested. But through it all, Tito and Castor still seem true to each other - Luppi and Dumont effortlessly assay complex characters - while we know deep down there's love, we're kept just out of range of motivations. Though they'd never betray one another - there's too much claret under the bridge for that - it's a constant question whether they're out only for themselves, or another, better accordion.
Rosarigasinos is intelligent, engaging and spectacularly assured filmmaking the likes of which we don't see much from Hollywood. Grande's manipulation of multiple genres, and his penchant for gentle misdirection leads viewers down a merry lane. If you can handle reading subtitles (or your Spanish is really good) you can't go wrong with this movie that rewards your intelligence.