Spain (84 mi) 2011 d: Gabriel Velázquez
This is a uniquely stylized experimental film that simply omits a narrative structure and instead defers to an atmospheric mood piece that attempts to get under the surface of teenage adolescence where the viewer often feels like they are assembling a jigsaw puzzle, finding and fitting together the missing pieces. While there’s a potential to be much more, this may ultimately be too spare and emotionally oblique for most viewers, little more than a dizzying array of images, yet the empty spaces in between are especially intriguing. Beautifully shot by David Azcano in the director’s hometown of Salamanca, Spain, music by Pablo Crespo, much of the film is wordless and only randomly intersects, telling the story of four young teenagers, all non-professionals, including 13-year old Mauri (Jesús Nieto), a moody kid seemingly left alone, where his bizarre behavior is borderline disturbing, considering he has free access to a stash of weapons, seen from time to time toying with a large knife or a rifle, also chasing after a German Shepherd dog that may have swallowed something valuable. We infer he is the surviving victim of an opening car crash, the cause of which is never shown or explained, only heard, losing his parents when the car swerved off the highway and ended up in the nearby Tormes River, which is then featured prominently throughout the film, like a central character weaving in and out of the various stories. Rummaging through a pile of discarded belongings scattered along the riverbank, he finds his father’s ring, wearing it around his neck as a keepsake. Isolated and alone, we rarely see this kid ever speak to anyone, but he breaks into the local swimming pool only to lose his ring at the bottom of the pool, chased out of the area by noises before he could retrieve it. Instead he observes two troubling older teenage boys, Jota (Víctor García) and Simón (Juanma Sevillano), both incendiary experts that love blowing things up who appear to be living in an abandoned boathouse, whose pastime includes needlessly gouging fish at a nearby hatchery. They are typical rebellious hoodlums seen in any town, but in this case also parentless kids, so they spend their time committing petty crimes just for the thrill and satisfaction. They find the ring at the bottom of the pool and abscond with the merchandise.
Perhaps the most poignant section revolves around a young 12-year old girl, Rebecca (Carolina Morocho), initially seen playing with a group of other girls all wearing the pink coats and black pants of a Catholic girl’s school uniform. Apparently abandoned by her parents as well, the film interestingly never shows any adults in the picture, so the viewer remains continually subject to the mindset of any one of the teenagers, often feeling haphazardly constructed, moving quickly from each character’s point of view as we watch moments of their lives unfold. At one point Rebecca breaks out in fashionable attire with a girlfriend applying makeup, where three girls romp up the steep steps into the city nightlife area, with one returning back down the steps accompanied by a boy, where in a quick cut afterwards it appears she’s had a sexual incident, seen alone by the riverside cleaning blood off her thighs, certainly a sad expression for her own carelessness. Jota and Simón are seen arriving by motorcycle at gunpoint with Mauri, though they easily overpower him. When asked for his ring back, they throw it in the middle of the river, where converging stories eventually meet. Rebecca, now dressed as a white angel with wings, the picture of innocence or innocence lost, takes a pregnancy test where the results fall into the river floating away at the same time Mauri wades in searching for the ring. Ironically it’s one of the older boys seen later in the film meeting with a pregnant girlfriend. While there’s no definitive outcome to any of the narratives, the film uses a minimalist kaleidoscope of impressionistic images to reconstruct a scathingly empty interior landscape of broken lives drifting aimlessly, where callousness, blighted emotions, sexual curiosity, and the disturbing behavior of heartlessly unaffected Catholic boys suggest a moral vacuum, creating a mixed portrait of loneliness and adolescent indifference, where solitary souls appear like ghosts searching to find a way in this soulless moral landscape.