×

Film Review: ‘The Snatch Thief’

A nuanced approach to the two leads — one a purse snatcher, the other his amnesiac victim — should draw festivals to this indie Latin American production.

Director:
Agustín Toscano
With:
Sergio Prina, Liliana Juárez, León Zelarrayán, Daniel Elias, Camila Plaate, Pila Benitez Vibart, Mirella Pascual. (Spanish dialogue)

1 hour 33 minutes

Though its awkwardly translated title has been the butt of off-color jokes at Cannes, Argentine drama “The Snatch Thief” is a nicely plotted, unpretentious film about a purse snatcher whose guilt over a theft gone wrong leads to his befriending a victim with memory loss. Using many of the same actors as in his debut film “The Owners,” this second feature from Agustín Toscano, also set in the north-central city of Tucumán, takes a nuanced approach to the two lead characters, refusing an easy heart-warming approach and thereby delivering a more complex story beneath the stripped-down filmmaking. Not all of it quite holds together, but “The Snatch Thief” is exactly the type of small-scale Latin American indie product that sees significant festival play.

Cool blue tonalities are used at the start to introduce a couple of purse thieves: Miguel (Sergio Prina) drives the motorbike, and Pablo, AKA Colorao (Daniel Elias) grabs the bag. This time their target hangs on and is dragged down the street half dead before she lets go as Pablo urges Miguel to speed off. They separate after dividing the spoils, and Miguel spends a bit of time with his young son León (León Zelarrayán), though the child’s mother Antonella (Camila Plaate) is fed up with her ex’s inability to maintain basic child support.

Major guilt that his latest misadventure might have seriously injured his target leads Miguel to ask around at the hospital, where he recognizes Elena Suarez (Liliana Juárez), who’s pretty banged up and has lost her memory. Even her name is a mystery to the hospital, but Miguel, posing as her tenant, is able to ID her since he went through her purse. Doctor Luz (Pila Benitez Vibart, underused) is a bit suspicious of Miguel’s story, but strong-willed Elena, already confused, accepts what he tells her and is released back home in his care.

For Miguel, previously sleeping rough, the situation is ideal since he can assuage his remorse and have a roof over his head. One thing doesn’t add up in his mind though: If Elena was just a house cleaner, as he learns, how come she has such a large apartment? Toscano’s interests in the performance of class, first plumbed in “The Owners,” again forms a sub-theme here, though it needs a little more developing. More uncertain is the way he incorporates elements of civil unrest in Tucumán, glimpsed in the form of police strikes (a real issue during filming) and looting. The inclusion of these demonstrations lends a concrete element of social destabilization to the general atmosphere, which certainly suits the story, though just a bit more could have made it feel less like it was almost haphazardly tossed in as a serendipitous coincidence.

Neither Miguel nor Elena are especially “nice” people, which makes them far more interesting. Besides being a thief, he’s got a short fuse, while she’s whiny and isn’t above manipulating the situation. Elias and Juárez are excellent together, their characters’ rapport a hesitant dance moving from wariness to need to a more complex mix of the two. Visuals are suitably modest, especially successful at using the physicality of Elena’s apartment as a reflection of the protagonists’ shifting relationship.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Snatch Thief'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight), May 15, 2018. Running time: 93 MIN. (Original title: “El Motoarrebatador”)

Production: (Argentina-Uruguay-France) A Rizoma, Murillo Cine, Oriental Features production, in association with Gloria Films. (International sales: The Match Factory, Cologne.) Producers: Natacha Cervi, Hernán Musaluppi, Georgina Baisch, Cecilia Salim. Coproducers: Diego Robino Picón, Santiago López.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Agustín Toscano. Camera (color): Arauco Hernández Holz. Editor: Pablo Barbieri. Music: Maxi Prietto.

With: Sergio Prina, Liliana Juárez, León Zelarrayán, Daniel Elias, Camila Plaate, Pila Benitez Vibart, Mirella Pascual. (Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content