By Josh Gardner
Making a big splash on the Fall festival scene is The Moneychanger / Así Habló El Cambista, the latest work by Uruguayan filmmaker Federico Veiroj (A Useful Life, The Apostate, Belmonte). After premiering in the competitive Platform section of the Toronto International Film Festival, the film had its European Premiere at San Sebastian and will soon make its way to the prestigious New York Film Festival this October.
The film follows Humberto (Daniel Hendler), a young currency trader in 1970s Uruguay, who falls for his boss’ daughter (Dolores Fonzi). As he takes over the family business, Humberto is pulled into a web of corruption, the consequences of which ripple through his life. A thrilling period caper with a streak of Veiroj’s trademark sensibilities, The Moneychanger was warmly welcomed by critics in Toronto. We snuck a few minutes with Veiroj and Hendler between screenings at TIFF to talk about their collaboration.
The Moneychanger is Veiroj’s first film adaptation—his previous projects were original concepts. As he explains, “In 2012, I was casting in a very small seaside village in Uruguay. I had some time to kill and found the book by chance. There, on a small shelf, I saw a book called Así Habló La Cambista, which translates literally to Thus Spoke The Money Broker or The Money Changer. After reading it for a couple of minutes I thought, “This could really be a movie!”
Veiroj wrote the adaptation with Arauco Hernández, his regular cinematographer and occasional co-writer. In some ways, the film joins the long tradition of stories of corruption and greed in film. During our conversation, Veiroj makes special mention of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, for instance. Yet, Veiroj shares that he and Arauco were more interested in centering the story around a captivating character than playing to a specific genre. “Even though the film plays with genres like crime and thriller, it’s more of a character piece. You know from the first minute that Humberto is a bad person, so you have to forgive at least some of his transgressions in order to keep the audience. We wanted them to be constantly debating his morality. In this way, it’s kind of like an American film noir.”
Daniel Hendler, an accomplished director in his own right, perfectly inhabits Humberto’s clumsy ambition, although it wasn’t always clear he’d get a chance to play the role. “Federico was finalizing the script when he first told me that he wanted me to play Humberto. But, because the film follows Humberto over several decades, they had originally been considering having two actors play the part. So, I just sat back and waited, because Federico and I are friends. I knew that I loved the film, regardless of whether or not I got to be in it. But, I’m so lucky that it worked out. Humberto goes through such a big transformation and you don’t get opportunities to play a character like this very often, especially on screen.”
Like many of Veiroj’s films, The Moneychanger has a deadpan sense of humor, often surreal in its nature. “Humor is very important for me, but I wasn’t thinking let’s put some deadpan here, let’s throw some there.” He continued, “We knew we needed to add moments of comedy, levity, and satire towards the end, to build some complicity within the audience and to let Humberto’s moral bankruptcy breathe a little.”
Similarly, Hendler did not overthink the psychological profile of his character. “We took an intuitive approach and, while we talked a lot about neurosis, we didn’t talk about Humberto’s neurosis. We came up with a lot of different explanations for his actions without knowing the exact reason why he did things, we never worked in absolutes.”
Although The Moneychanger has been well-received internationally, Veiroj and Hendler note the difficulty of making an impact in Uruguay, where American films take up 99% of screens. “Even though it may be a difficult time to get films made and screened in Uruguay,” Hendler notes, “it reinforces why it made me so happy that we got to make The Moneychanger. The film plays with different genres, but it really can’t be classified. I hope in Uruguay, and Argentina where I live, we can continue making films that are challenging.”