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Only last week a friend said that school-time bullying in
preadolescence or adolescence leaves a scar for a life-time. To be
bullied in a phase in life when you are full of insecurities and your
self-esteem and self-image are just shaping themselves, to be bullied
by your peers is a terrible burden. It's a cowardly act by cowards who
make their best to make you a coward.
Cobardes is not a happy movie. It is not an easy movie. It has quite a pessimistic under-tone that reflects our time of disconnected families and media violence. It has no winners and a plenty of losers. There is no black and white here but a general sense of shades of depressive grey. It manages to avoid cheap moralism and unnecessary preaching and instead delivers a conclusion that we all fear for something/someone and we are all ready to misuse power over those that are vulnerable to us.
Cobardes might not be as fresh, small and beautiful as the previous movie by the directors. It's much more a product, professionally made and very well acted that might lack in passion but gives food for though. The (inner) world of adolescents is always a mystery not only to themselves but to the people around them. The script has its flaws and imperfections but that is overruled by the impressive work by the actors, especially the young ones. They manage to give a face and presence to some uneasy feelings and play well with our sympathies. The movie has rhythm and a polemic, but excellent ending. It is not a masterpiece and doesn't pretend to be that but it is one of the very few, if any, well done movies on a difficult and merging theme that hopefully connects with the young audience and makes them reflect on this issue.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a curious film ostensibly about bullying, but may well have
deeper themes that go into youthful fear and how we sometimes cover our
fears with bluster. I don't want to get all amateur psychiatrist on
you, but this film raises many more questions than it answers and I
don't say that as a criticism.
Gaby is a young boy with red hair who is teased with the seemingly innocuous nickname of "Carrot". Believe me, nicknames like that are designed to insult and this one definitely does. Guille is the leader of a small gang that is doing most of the picking on Gaby and there is never any indication why this is so, or how long it has been going on. Is that important information? I'm not sure, but not knowing the reasons behind this do not distract from the film.
Being a contemporary film, the whole schoolyard bullying and teasing has moved into the world of cell phones and the Internet. This should not be surprising, but some of the standard problems still remain. The bullied kid feels totally alone and there aren't any adults around who seem to know what is actually going on. This is not their fault per se, especially since the kids won't say one word about it.
In an ironic twist, one time when Gaby is in a stall in the bathroom (I can't speak for schools in Spain, but no one in any urban high school in the USA goes into the boys bathroom to do anything but cause trouble), and while there, someone, unseen by us, sets a trash can on fire and then breaks the lock on the stall trapping Gaby who manages to escape.
In a rage, he runs right up to Guille and cold cocks him (about damn time he did something) and then continues punching him until several teachers have to pull him off. I said this was ironic because it is from this quite visible act of anger that Gaby becomes tagged as the bully and Guille as the victim, characterizations that neither boy likes. But it does send their various parents off on the wrong tangents.
There are several scenes involving the two boys very busy parents, who are always planning to talk to their kids later about their problems but they never quite get around to it. On another level, we see the parents getting pushed around at their jobs and in their social lives and you do come to realize exactly how much crap we adults have to put up with on a daily basis from other people.
I was afraid at one point that this film might degenerate into a Columbine like bid for revenge or vindication or perhaps end with a round of big hugs and friendly understanding, but fortunately, director/writers Jose Corbacho and Juan Cruz manage to provide a solution to Gaby's problem that is original, without being particularly helpful and I would not recommend anyone else try it if you find yourself being bullied.
Otherwise, the film rises or falls on the performances of the kids and they are all around excellent. I especially want to say that Eduardo Gare as Gaby and Eduardo Espinilla as Guille shine out playing subtly detailed characters who manage to say a lot with very little obvious "acting". It's easy to look like a sullen inarticulate teenager, it's a lot harder to play that on screen yet still convey intelligence and thoughtfulness.
A very thought provoking drama that didn't take the easy way out. If there is ever an American remake, Gus Van Sant should direct it.
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