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To Steal From A Thief (Cien años de perdón) - Spanish Film Festival 2017

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A gripping heist film, To Steal From A Thief toys with layered identities and alliances

Valencia, Spain.

Financial capital, and hotbed of corruption.

A bank, filled with people going about their day. A young couple is desperately trying to keep their house. A daughter argues for an advance for her pensioner father. The manager spits into the phone at her colleague, incredulous that she has been made redundant.

Six armed men burst in, quickly taking control of the bank and attempting to execute a meticulously planned heist. Nothing goes to plan. Hostages are taken, police swarm the rain-soaked streets and the existence of a safety deposit box is revealed.

Of course. There is always a box, and this one contains something far more precious than jewels and cash. Something which could even rock the stability of the country.

The implications of the situation soon reach the upper level of government. Intelligence officers descend on the bank, intent on a quiet and speedy resolution. Inside, one of the captives also realises that the box could provide some leverage, and attempts to bargain their way out.

With their planned escape route ruled out, the robbers are resigned to having to talk their way out. But can this bunch of volatile wasters really bargain with the high-rollers?

This is the main question posed by the plot, and it is explored well.

Issues of guilt, obligation, reputation, security and deniability all hang in the air as the tension between the robbers smoulders. The cinematography is very clever, focussing on the gleaming vaults of the bank and the dark smoky backrooms of the politicians. It's quite a stark jump in aesthetics, and helps in creating a distinction between the pathetic robbers and the scheming government.

Other films in this genre tend to visually emphasise the violence and injuries that the villains meter out; having such a developed knowledge of what works to create tension, this lack of violence is a clearly a deliberate choice by the director and fits in with how we as an audience are to resolve each group at the end of the film. Violence isn't totally absent from the film however, with some scenes being fairly graphic.

The supporting actors are all played very well, with no one stealing the scene or overacting.

The bank robbers start off as very one and two-dimensional characters, almost always wearing masks and barking at the hostages; it's not until the latter stages of the film that the two leaders are able to relax and show some humanity. Contrasting this are the shady intelligence officers and politicians; they are painted as being quite worldly and magnanimous at the start of the film by considering all potential victims, yet swiftly regress to becoming only bothered with protecting the President and party. It's a skilful technique by the writers, and it works well when considering the full proverb from where the Spanish title of the film is drawn:

"Ladrón que roba a ladrón, tiene cien años de perdón".

This translates roughly to English as "A thief that steals from another thief has one hundred years of forgiveness". In many Latin cultures, one hundred years is seen as an eternity, as it is longer than most people will live. So, in English, the saying is basically that it is no crime to steal from a thief.

This isn't an overly original premise for a film, but it is well written and the strength is in the acting. There is some interesting commentary on society, with some dry humour as well from "The Uruguayan" (Rodrigo de la Serna).

The conclusion is ultimately satisfying, with each character's story resolved.

Director Daniel Calparsoro (Combustion) and writer Jorge Guerricaechevarrí (My Big Night) have made a solid heist movie, with a lot of similarities to others in the genre such as Dog Day Afternoon and Inside Man.

Cien años de perdón / To Steal From A Thief is playing nationally as part of the Spanish Film Festival, from the 20th of April to the 13th of May. Rated R, running time is 96 minutes.

For more information on session times and ticketing, go to the festival website or to their Facebook page
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Why? A solid heist film, with some interesting themes
Where: Playing at cinemas across Australia; check the Spanish Film Festival website for details
Cost: Ticket prices vary between locations
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