Rodrigo Moreno: To be a filmmaker, studying the classics is essential

The director of  Argentina's Oscar submission,  The Delinquents, spoke to Cinema Express about making a ''peculiar"' and ''original'' heist comedy-drama at IFFK 
Rodrigo Moreno: To be a filmmaker, studying the classics is essential

It's not every day you see a filmmaker making an "existential heist drama" of a three-hour duration. Argentine filmmaker Rodrigo Moreno echoes Martin Scorsese's recent statement about three-hour dramas when he says that in the age where "people watch long Marvel movies or multi-episode TV shows," a long drama-heavy film shouldn't be made to feel like the odd one out. "There are situations where someone invests a lot of time on bingeing many episodes in a row, only to realise in the end that they've wasted their time," he adds. Was his producers easy to convince, though? "Very. They are happy with the film's length. They understood that it adds to the originality and peculiarity of it. I don't have a problem with a long runtime because it has no bearing on the quality."

A reimagining of the 1949 Argentine crime film Hardly a Criminal, Rodrigo's film is Argentina's Oscar submission in the Best International Feature Film category for the upcoming 96th Academy Awards. There's a reason he was adamant about having a three-hour length, and it has nothing to do with the storytelling logic of today's popular TV shows. "I've structured The Delinquents in a way where you are always expecting something, in terms of the characters' humanity -- you are curious to know what will happen to them, what kind of decisions they'll make and the story... it's always expanding; it's interesting to see how it unfolds. That's how the audience responded at every screening I attended."

Edited excerpts:

You mentioned Hardly a Criminal (1949) being an inspiration for The Delinquents. Is it your way of connecting to the classics -- to retain some of their purity, in terms of the storytelling that relied mainly on visuals and an unhurried pace?

Absolutely. I wanted to have some link to the old tradition of the Argentine film noir, which is very different from the films made by my generation. It's an exciting thought, no? To preserve some ties to those traditions? At the same time, this film is tethered more to film language than reality. So I used many gestures of film language and, of course, of genre films as a storytelling device, with the intent to seduce the spectator.

Do you prefer directing the scripts you write?

Yes, I like to write what I shoot and shoot what I write. Writing... it's a torturous process... you suffer a lot because you're alone with your ideas, hesitating on every step you make and every decision you take, but in the end, it feels very nice when you can materialise those words, you know.

You also get to have more creative control...

I'm not sure about that because what I've realised while making my last few films is film direction consists of creating some conditions, not necessarily to control everything. I think it's better not to control everything. I have some technicians with whom I'd like to exchange ideas and decisions.... technicians whom I trust and like to work with frequently. I've been collaborating with them for ages.

You also teach filmmaking (at Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires). What important lessons do you impart to your students -- and have you at any time felt that the present generation isn't as enthusiastic about classics as yours was?

I don't know if I have a particular lesson for them. What I try to do with them is engage in the exercise of exploring, investigating, and asking questions. To wonder about our work and discuss it, and watch more films because, speaking of the new generation, it's so difficult because they spend more time looking at TikTok and Instagram than cinema. So, my role at the university is to connect them to the history of cinema because if you want to be a filmmaker, a deep understanding of what came before you is essential.

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