In his perceptive feature debut, which garnered the writer/director a Goya (Spanish Oscar) for Best New Director, Daniel Sanchez Arevalo captures several 20-something Madrilenos at crossroads in their lives. For the past seven years, ever since his father suffered a debilitating stroke, Jorge (Quim Guterrez) has cared for his old man, taking over his janitorial duties in the building where they live while earning a B.A. in business administration at night. Degree in hand, however, he’s having a hard time convincing prospective employers that he can balance his responsibilities at home and at work.
Meanwhile, his brother Antonio (Antonio de la Torre), in prison for an unnamed crime, falls in love with Paula (Marta Etura), a female inmate he meets in a theatre workshop. Unable to impregnate her so that she can live in the maternity ward rather then in the general population where she’s routinely beaten, Antonio asks Jorge to lend his familial DNA the old-fashioned way. Jorge is initially reluctant to engage in a relationship with a woman other than his beautiful neighbor Natalia (Eva Pallares), but eventually finds it liberating to not feel like a “hand-me-down” with a woman out of his league.
Finally, there’s Israel (Raul Arevalo), Jorge’s best friend and the film’s comic relief, who questions his sexuality when he discovers his father is visiting a male massage therapist and becomes involved with the masseur himself in an attempt to prevent his father from returning.
The message here has less to do with dreaming big than finding success by first accepting one’s limitations—a theme that may be difficult to swallow for American adherents to the tenets of hard work and perseverance. The walls of the prison serve as barriers for Antonio and Paula, but Jorge, Israel and even Natalia are likewise hemmed in. It’s as if each character is a fish in a tank in Israel’s family pet shop, unaware that a pane of glass separates them from unattainable goals.
Under Arevalo’s sure hand, this divide between personal desire and family obligations is established visually early on in an overhead shot that tenderly captures Jorge and his father reaching out to each other from either side of a brick wall. Here, and throughout the film, such subjugation is handled with sensitivity and grace.
Cast: Quim Gutierrez, Marta Etura, Antonio de la Torre, Hector Colome, Raul Arevalo and Eva Pallares
Director/Screenwriter: Daniel Sanchez Arevalo
Producer: Jose Antonio Felez
Genre: Drama; Spanish-language, subtitled
Running time: 105 min.
Release date: October 19, 2007 NY, November exp.