A gritty, compassionate study of post-adolescent life in contemporary Spain, “Mensaka” shows a hackneyed theme brought to life with surprising accomplishment by first-time director Salvador Garcia Ruiz. A good showcase for young local acting talent, pic has garnered good home reviews which could create decent B.O. Lack of big names, though, is likely to restrict it to Spanish-lingo territories.
The plot is nothing new, but there is a lot happening, and it’s deftly handled. Gutsy rebel David (Gustavo Salmeron) is a mensaka (motorbike messenger) who plays drums in a band whose other members are handsome Fran (Adria Collado) — clearly rock star material — and shy, sensitive Javi (Tristan Ulloa). The band is about to sign a record contract, but David is unhappy about their being sold as “young urban poets.”
In a largely cliche-free way, pic looks at the developing relationships between David and Fran and their respective girlfriends, Bea (Laia Marull) and Natalia (Maria Esteve), both long-suffering. A drug dealer, Ricardo (Guillermo Toledo), moves in with David and Bea, while Fran seems unable to keep his hands off other girls.
Javi, from a wealthy family, falls for Cristina (Lola Duenas) in a bar: She turns out to be a junkie. Meanwhile, Javi’s demonic little sister, Laura (Sandra Rodriguez), has a gang that seems hellbent on messing up Ricardo’s life.
Considering the material, pic shuns easy sensationalism: Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are shown as more grim than glamorous if you don’t have cash. Visually, it’s all dirty apartments and dark back streets.
The script is perceptive about the emotional chaos that accompanies the Great Leap Forward into adulthood; about the patience of the girls while the boys are painfully discovering who they are; and the way that money can convert teen rebellion into pop pulp. But pic’s strongest points are the freshness of its dialogue and its music, which is a mixture of conventional rock and sensitively scored strings.