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There are plenty of avid movie-goers out there who flinch at the sight of subtitles. These are the same people who missed out on the remarkable City Of God, walking out during the opening few minutes merely because they had to use their brain for once and read the dialogue. Subtitles used to be the domain of your local publicly funded TV channel, which screened late night soft-core porn and World news to a miniscule number of the population. Now there’s definitely a market for foreign film among those who can stand having to read as well as watch. Thanks largely to films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Amelie, there is now a window of opportunity for foreign films to gain unprecedented exposure. This allows audiences the chance to see some great films that may well have been overlooked merely because of the pathetic excuse that is the language barrier.

With distributors such as Madman and Magna Pacific jumping on the foreign film bandwagon it’s time some of the better overseas flicks gained exposure. And I’m pleased to be able to help.

Nine Queens (Nueve Reinas, Rental)

Nine Queens, or Nueve Reinas, marks the directorial debut of Argentinean writer Fabian Bielinsky. Bielinsky had struggled as a filmmaker until he won a script-writing competition ahead of over three hundred other hopefuls. The film stormed the box-office in its homeland and swept all the major awards ceremonies, making Bielinsky a very happy man. The rather small budget was recouped during its US theatrical run alone, leaving the profits from all the other countries to pad the wallets of all those involved.

Set in Argentina and versed in Spanish, the film tells the story of two conmen and their very eventful day out. Marcos is an aging confidence criminal who has seen it all before and knows exactly how to take charge of a situation, which is exactly how he meets Juan. Juan is a baby-faced nice guy on the surface but an aspiring conman underneath after it is revealed his father taught him some of the tricks of the trade. The pair team up and immediately establish a bond; a strange sort of bond, but a working relationship nonetheless.

Soon the devious duo come across the perfect opportunity for a spot of swindling involving a set of stamps, called the Nine Queens. Who would’ve thought stamp collecting could be so cool? I half expected a middle-aged, grey-haired nerd to come out and offer the cash, rather than the rather astute businessman by the name of Vidal. Even Marcos’ sister becomes involved, working in the hotel where the deal is about to go down. What ensues is a classic tale of crossing, double-crossing and a series of messy situations. There are some cool little con sequences too, involving old ladies, newspaper vendors and convenience store clerks.

It seems like your run of the mill con flick, though there’s definitely something under the surface that adds a bit of charm and charisma to the story. While the film is endowed with the usual twists and turns like only a couple of conmen can provide, Nine Queens is content just to let it all play out rather than convoluting the story just for shock value. The performances are quite good, though their effect may have been lost a little on this reviewer as he tried to read and watch the film at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate foreign film, it’s just that I’d love to be able to speed read and use the rest of the time to look at what were some carefully constructed visuals.
There may be plenty of elements of familiarity with this flick but it’s good to see there’s no pretentiousness in any of it. The story plays out extremely well after an intriguing opening act and you’ll realise full well that the ending may not be what it would seem. The longevity factor is turned up a notch with repeat viewings revealing more and more about what actually transpires. Nine Queens is a great film that is worthy of a place on the rental and retail shelves among the best of them. And if foreign film can live up to these heights or better then bring the world to Region 4.

Nine Queens (Nueve Reinas, Rental)

Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1, the print isn’t the cleanest of them all but this may have been due to lower-grade film stock used as much as the DVD transfer itself. There are nasty little specs that pop up now and again but nothing too distracting, while grain is visible throughout, particularly in the more highly-lit locations. That said, sharpness is still quite good and the colours do stand out every now and again through what seems to be a deliberately dull palette. Not the best transfer going around but there isn’t really anything to keep you away from paying attention to the action on screen.

One other thing to mention is the condition of the subtitles. They look a little squashed on the screen which may have been a mastering issue, but really don’t take much getting used to. The film uses the burnt in subtitles, which is great for people like me who have a player with incredibly ugly generated titles, yet not so great for those who are already fluent in Spanish. The only other problem with the subtitles is that they often whiz past before you get a chance to read them, some staying for less than a second before being replaced by the next set. Those Spanish people talk fast! A few grammatical and spelling mistakes occur as well but the text is often going so fast you won’t notice. Picky, I know, but those who are slow to read might want to have their finger on the rewind button.

The Dolby 2.0 track is sufficient for this film, which relies more on the dialogue than any specialist sequences. The whole thing obviously sits right in the front though there are times when the channels are used to good effect. The score also bobs up every now and then but is quite subdued for the most part, only really coming into prominence towards the end. A serviceable audio soundtrack on this one.

Nine Queens (Nueve Reinas, Rental)

Madman have assembled a nice little collection of extras on this disc, even if it’s not all that deep in its focus. First up is a making of featurette, which runs for a little over 24 minutes. The quality is quite poor but the footage and interviews themselves are well worth a look. There’s a subtitle track for this, which is great because I wouldn’t have been able to understand a thing! Ricardo Darin has some good things to say among the stuff that was obviously loosely translated, while the director and other stars offer some good insights into their thoughts on the film.

The trailers & TV spots section includes the US, Argentinean and International trailers. The US trailer has a familiar American voiceover artist so that not a word of Spanish is spoken, the Argentinean trailer is quite the opposite in that it uses a quick-fire succession of dialogue to sound cool, while the international version doesn’t feature any spoken word, merely some cool-sounding text to make the film seem enticing. And for the most part it is in all three of the trailers. The TV spots feature audience members singing the film’s praises as they exit the theatre, and there’s a couple of versions featuring quick cuts from the film. Again, they are subtitled for our convenience.

The images & poster gallery section is merely twelve stills from the film, which aren’t all that exciting to be honest. The Madman propaganda section is a great addition to all of Madman’s discs, where they include trailers for their upcoming releases. This time we get to see bits of Amores Perros, 24 Hour Party People, Samsara, Dinner Rush, The Tracker, Spirited Away and Brotherhood Of The Wolf.

Nine Queens (Nueve Reinas, Rental)

A great little foreign film that deserves more than just the “subtitled art film” tag that many will undoubtedly attach to it. We get to see crafty conmen, twists and turns and enough money in postage to cover my Amazon shipping for life, all with a certain style which is very endearing. A serviceable soundtrack and average visuals coupled with some decent extras make the disc well worth a look for the price. Check out the movie, though, to see proof positive that English speaking countries aren’t the only ones churning out some great productions.

Note that this disc is encoded as all region, meaning those few importers without a multi-region player can be confident the disc will work with their hardware.