Humberto Brause doesn’t look like he should be the narrator of his own story in “The Moneychanger.” Describing his life of luxury in voiceover, he is thoroughly mediocre when he appears onscreen (played by the wonderfully deadpan Daniel Hendler), looking as if he should be someone important in expensive suits, but his unkempt hair and sweaty demeanor give the game away. Wealth is something that happened to him rather than accruing it, but even that came about in a strange way after being taken under the wing of a money launderer and his moral flexibility was of use rather than any real skill. As he notes, sandwiched between two far larger economic powers in Brazil and Argentina by living in Uruguay, there is little oversight as he puts money away for the rich in Swiss bank accounts and other untraceable pockets around the world and takes 10% of any interest.
It’s a tale as old as time, which director Federico Veiroj cheekily acknowledges by opening “The Moneychanger” in biblical times with Jesus wiping away any tables in Jerusalem where he sees money being exchanged, aware that it’s the root of all evil, but Veiroj tells this story in an inventive new way as it denies the assumption that there’s a correlation between someone’s bank account and their personal worth. Nicely capturing the slightly surreal feeling of living in a world where there’s a disconnect in effort and results, the film follows Humberto as he goes from small money transfers to handling the major accounts from Montevideo to Buenos Aires, all of whom appreciate his discretion. The money doesn’t make him happy, but it does become the central currency to every relationship he has, including his wife Gudrun (a scene-stealing Dolores Fonzi), the daughter of his mentor who doesn’t love him so much as the stability his career provides. Their first proper date, a dinner of fondue exposes their differences as Humberto forces himself to enjoy the cheese dip, thinking he’s classy for doing so while Gudrun knows it stinks, yet they get married anyway and Gudrun gets two kids to spend her time with and the chance to be left alone to practice her instrument, the recorder, when she pleases.
One of the film’s clever running gags involves preventing Humberto from having coffee as it may tax his heart, but you realize Gudrun is doing this for her health rather than her husband’s and as “The Moneychanger” wears on and Humberto’s demeanor doesn’t change one bit, the anxiety the money creates far outweighs any benefits. While Humberto may not be able to enjoy his wealth all that much, it is rich territory for Veiroj and co-writers Arauco Hernández and Martín Mauregui in their adaptation of Juan Enrique Gruber’s novel to watch a man who takes advantage of fluctuations in the global marketplace to see his own value rise and fall arbitrarily. The approach is sly, but fittingly for a story of a man who like so many others have anonymously amassed a fortune and haven’t had their appetite satiated, “The Moneychanger” sneaks up on you while actually fulfilling its promise of a good time (and maybe a good cry about capitalism as well).
“The Moneychanger” will screen at the Toronto Film Festival on September 9th at 7 pm at the Scotabank and September 15th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at 9:30 am.