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Fate dealt Fabián Bielinsky four Aces with Nine Queens, leading him through two barren years of knock-backs, to a script competition where he triumphed over 350 entrants and made his highly acclaimed feature debut. Now, doors all around the world are open to him, as the Argentinian filmmaker tells Andrew L. Urban.

Apart from having his debut feature, Nine Queens, take the top slot at the Argentinian box office and gaining an armful of awards, the next best thing for director Fabián Bielinsky was the odd phone call from those producers who had been offered the script but knocked it back. “Some never called me again, but a few called and said ‘what can I say, I was wrong, I’m an arsehole…everybody’s telling me I’m an arsehole and they’re right’…but believe me, it’s nothing like revenge for me because I did end up with the right producers and I’m glad I didn’t make the film with those that knocked me back. Fate led me to the right place…”

"seven major awards"

After two years of knocking on doors and getting rejected, Bielinsky entered the script in a national competition organised by the well-connected Patagonik Film Group. Bielinsky’s script was chosen (by a jury) for production out of the 350 entries, and when it was released in 2000, 1.5 million Argentinians queued at the cinemas for tickets. The film went on to win seven major awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay at the Argentinian Film Critics Association Awards, and several international awards, including two major awards at Cognac, the festival specialising in ‘Film Policier’. It may be seen as ‘arthouse’ in Australia – but that’s only because the majority of Australians are too lazy to bother with subtitles. Their loss, I reckon.

It’s about two swindlers who con their way through life, Juan (Gaston Pauls) and Marcos (Ricardo Darin), and after they meet up they concoct a bigger than usual scam, trying to sell a fake set of valuable stamps known as the Nine Queens, from wartime Germany. Their escalating game involves escalating lies, cons and swindles, and a risky attempt to con a wealthy stamp collector. 

The film’s popularity may be explained by its chutzpah which alone makes it a rewarding outing, with great performances, lots of throwaway humour and a real story teller’s yarn of crooks with more dash than cash. Bielinsky admits to having been fascinated by street swindlers all his life, but he doesn’t know why that is. “I wish you could tell me,” he says laughing down the phone, sitting in his Buenos Aires home one evening last month. 

Bielinsky’s overnight success started 20 years ago, when as a 13 year old kid he made his first short through his high school’s film group. He later graduated from the National Cinematographic Institute with an award winning short based on the life of Jorge Luis Borges and went onto a professional career as assistant director on hundreds of tv commercials and some features.

"a crazy idea"

The critical and commercial success spawned by Nine Queens has opened many doors for Bielinsky. “I’ve had a lot of phone calls,” he says laughing again. “Something like 15 different production companies from all over the world, but mainly Americans - have approached the production company to buy the script and do an English language remake. But not only American… there were also people from England and France interested. When there was vague talk of me directing a remake, I said absolutely not. I’m not going to make my first and second film the same. That’s a crazy idea. 

“You as director and the crew and the producers who made the film with you, we all agree that the film was perfect. Everybody loved the film, and it went great at the box office and we won all these accolades and awards and everybody likes the film…so, let’s do it again.” We laugh. It does sound silly. 

Nope, Bielinsky is working on a new script “a psychological thriller – or something like that…about a decent man who is tempted by crime,” which he may or may not make in Argentina. “I’d like to…you know, make it a small, warm film and keep full control. But the most amazing thing that happened to me with Nine Queens is that everybody from all over the world is calling me and they want to work with me and they offer me production and everything. All these doors are wide open waiting for me. But I’m trying not to think about all that…just thinking of the script and to finish that first.”

Published September 26, 2002

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