Dir. Jaime Marques Olarreaga. Sp. 2007. 101mins.
Sombre mood and stylish visuals lend a mysterious atmosphere to Jaime Marques Olarreaga's feature debut Thieves, a film which attempts to explore more avenues than it is willing to actually venture down, leaving the audience, by the end, with a work that amounts to less than the sum of its parts.
Though ostensibly a love story between a certified pickpocket and a girl who just moonlights in the business for her own amusement, it takes on, very quickly, masses of moral, religious and obsessive undertones that are not always developed during a story whose tragic conclusion seems inevitable.
The film's insistence on staying on an almost abstract level for its entire course is a definite obstacle for identification with the two lead characters and, as such, may hinder its acceptance by wider audiences, who are expected to observe from a distance but never become involved emotionally. Still, any festival looking for promising talents to nurse, should be interested; certainly younger audiences might find it easier to get into it.
Alex (Ballesta), the son of a Romanian gypsy apprehended in the act of emptying other people's pockets on the subway, is sent to a shelter while his mother is packed off to jail. Once he emerges back on the streets as an adult, some ten years later, he tries to start a new life, but soon goes back to stealing, the one trade he really feels comfortable at.
One day, he stumbles upon a young girl student, Sara (Valverde) shoplifting in a department store, saves her in the nick of time from being caught and then, as mutual fascination between them grows, offers her work stealing and sharing the profits.
At the same time Alex is looking for his mother, and approaches a fence (Bachau) she worked with, who is willing to provide information on her whereabouts - in exchange for a certain wallet being taken from its legitimate owner. But the operation fails because of the growing affection between Alex and Sara.
Basically a love story - almost a late coming-of-age romance - between two young people, Thieves' plot is complicated by the social gap separating its two lead characters; Sara is apparently a bored middle-class young woman still living with her parents, while Alex is one of those hungry lone wolves who survive by their wits and the skin of their pants.
This would still be par for the course if the grounds on which they meet, had been safer. Stealing for Sara is a sort of intriguing pastime, on the border of obsession; for Alex it is a livelihood and also an obsession.
Then there are the religious symbols abundantly thrown in, like the Madonna and Child put on a fire at a certain point to express the boy's disappointment with the present condition of his mothe, when he finally finds her. There is also the demonic fence, a Mephistophiles presence responsible for dragging both mother and son into the pits of sin.
The script, written by Jaime Marques Olarreaga and Enrique Lopez Lavigne, opens up several possible avenues to explore but never takes the trouble to actually walk down them. Focusing mainly on the love story that takes a long time before pronouncing itself, the plot leads to an ultimate redemption through love, but allows too many details to pass by without examination and too many questions to remain unanswered.
But neither of the leads are capable of carrying the film on their shoulders; personable and talented as each is on their own, together they possess the kind of cinematic presence that makes audiences forget their dubious activities. Bachau, however, acquits himself as smoothly as ever in his demonic role.
The production is visually arresting and polished in every respect, not least because of David Azcona's interesting camerawork, which changes patterns to fit the mood of the scene, from the glacial blue of the underground tunnels to the warm browns of Sara's home. Federico Jusid's musical accompaniment, a sort of ominous Requiem, seems to confirm the religious suggestion introduced by the rest of the artifacts.
Warner Bros Espana
Jaime Marques Olarreaga
Enrique Lopez Lavigne
Juan Jose Ballesta