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The Moneychanger

Daniel Hendler plays the harried Humberto Brause in Federico Veiroj’s The Moneychanger

THE MONEYCHANGER (Federico Veiroj, 2019)
New York Film Festival, Film Society of Lincoln Center
144/165 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Wednesday, October 9, Walter Reade Theater, 9:00
Thursday, October 10, Francesca Beale Theater, 6:00

“Jesus knew what he was doing; at the very cradle of civilization, we money brokers are the root of all evil. We’re to blame for everything that’s rotten in this world,” Humberto Brause (Daniel Hendler) says at the beginning of The Moneychanger, Uruguayan-Spanish writer-director Federico Veiroj’s fifth narrative feature, making its US premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 9 and 10. Hendler is terrific as Brause, playing the selfish, greedy businessman with a jittery unease, a man clearly uncomfortable in his own skin, especially as his world falls apart all around him.

The film begins in the city of Montevideo in 1975 and flashes back to 1956, when Brause is working for successful financier Schwensteiger (Luis Machín) and takes an instant liking to his boss’s daughter, Gudrun (Dolores Fonzi). Schwensteiger might be highly ethical, but his protégé and son-in-law is soon in bed with corrupt politicians, a questionable couple who needs a whole lot of laundry done, and an unclean prostitute. Brause knows he is doing bad things, breaking laws, and jeopardizing his relationship with his family — he moves about awkwardly, hesitant with his words, a kind of schmendrick who keeps being offered piles of cash — but he just can’t say no. “Our goal in life wasn’t to earn our peers’ respect and admiration,” he narrates. “Life was about making money and enjoying it. Enjoy every penny earned and spent. Getting into the garden of Eden was just a small fortune away.” But when his actions start blowing up in his face, he has to decide how far he will go to protect his interests.

Based on Juan Enrique Gruber’s 1979 novella Así habló el cambista, this cinematic satire was written by Veiroj with Martín Mauregui and cinematographer Arauco Hernández, who shoots the film in a droll 1970s palette of browns, blacks, and grays; the splendid period art direction is by Pablo Maestre Galli. Fonzi is static as Gudrun; her passive expression barely changes no matter what is happening. The cast also includes Benjamín Vicuña as extortionist Javier Bonpland, Paulo Betti as political conspirer Don Marins, and Germán de Silva as hit man Moacyr. Veiroj (A Useful Life, The Apostate) maintains an offbeat pace with subtle humor aimed at the absurdity of it all as one man navigates through a business sector gone off the deep end because of rampant deregulation. The Moneychanger is screening at the Walter Reade Theater on October 9 at 9:00 and at the Francesca Beale Theater on October 10 at 6:00, both followed by Q&As with Veiroj.

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