After a 17-year layoff, multitalented Javier Maqua (he’s a novelist and journalist too) returns to helming with “Chevrolet,” an accomplished, grittily authentic and nonmoralistic study of false hopes and broken dreams on the Spanish urban underbelly. This is high-quality, socially committed fare, but the leisurely pace of the first hour leaves it feeling a little too flat for mainstream tastes, with a decent fest run the likeliest bet.
Pic opens in a highly stylized way, with the voiceover (in English) of a 1959 Chevrolet, recalling its glamorous history as it burns, set alight by hoodlums in the ’90s. We flash back a few months to when, having been abandoned in an unnamed Spanish city, the car becomes a home for Brujas (edgy, energetic Javier Albala), a dealer-junkie punk. Brujas once acted for Gaspar (shambling Manuel de Blas), a fallen-from-grace movie helmer whose job is now cleaning the rats out of the local church. The pair are bound together by Gaspar’s love for Brujas, by the dream of one day making another pic together and by their affection for the one constant in their lives — the Chevrolet, a reminder of better things.
Middle-aged Lucia (Isabel Ordaz, both comic and moving) is a good-hearted hooker who is the only local brave enough to mix with Brujas and Gaspar. Her dream is to marry Pinto (Emilio Batista), one of the Africans living in the neighborhood. Illegal operations in the area are being overseen by the badder-than-bad Turk (Alfonso Asenjo), who keeps his stolen goods in abandoned cars until they are towed away, and to whom Brujas owes money.
The various relationships are established at an over-leisurely pace, with Maqua apparently seduced by the romance of the seedy. Pacing and intensity pick up after an afternoon of destruction by a gang of neo-Nazis bent on cleaning up the area and their murder of Rosa (Mariola Fuentes), a friend of Lucia’s.
Dialogue is unfailingly taut, with thesps striking sparks off one another at every opportunity. Maqua carefully avoids promoting the lachrymose at the expense of the realistic. Lenser Juan Carlos Gomez successfully creates a variety of lowlife tones, from a bleached-out Spanish sun to the sad shadows of the local disco. Music successfully supports mood without crudely dictating it.