Review: ‘The Taxi Thief’

"The Taxi Thief" cleverly fictionalizes the true story of an unemployed man who borrowed other people's taxis to drive at night, returning them along with part of his earnings the next morning. The pic imitates an ugly TV docu so well that many viewers will think there are no actors involved.

An apparently simple but actually quite complex film, “The Taxi Thief” cleverly fictionalizes the true story of an unemployed man who borrowed other people’s taxis to drive at night, returning them along with part of his earnings the next morning. The pic imitates an ugly TV docu so well that many viewers will think there are no actors involved. The film works either way. Amusing and very watchable, its smart political underpinnings and no-global outlook could be a magnet for younger Euro auds with the right marketing. Fests will certainly want to take a look after its strong bow at San Sebastian.

Produced by Barcelona’s cutting edge ZIP Films, this second feature by writer-director Jo Sol (“Tatawo”), aka Jordi Sole, shows an independence of spirit and thought that is fresh and engaging. It manages to deal with deadly serious themes like unemployment and chronic poverty and puts their devastating psychological repercussions within an understandable social framework, while remaining an entertaining watch.

When viewers meet Jose R. (Pepe Rovira), his career as a taxi thief is already over. He has been caught and is nervously preparing to stand trial for multiple thefts. His bizarre case has caught the attention of a highly politicized legal aid office, but his lawyer’s (Francesc Arnau) insistence on making a political victim out of him only worries Jose.

Far from seeing himself as having made a radical social gesture, he insists he’s a “normal” man who just wants stay out of jail. When he loses the case, young Mar (Marc Sempere) hides him from the arresting officers, first in his rented apartment and then in squatters’ quarters.

The humorous tension builds as the 52-year-old Jose resists becoming a poster boy for the no-global anti-capitalists who have befriended him. His reluctant conversion to marching in demonstrations where protestors carry signs demanding “Free Money,” as well as his exchange of ideas with the intellectual Mar, eventually leads him to the revelation that “there are people who spend their time not just earning money.”

Meanwhile the film critiques the Left’s lofty, idealistic approach to the “anonymous men” they champion.

Jose and Mar make a charming, odd couple who occasionally become sparring partners, particularly after Mar forces Jose to move out and squat a house, where mixed ethnic groups live commune-style. Rovira’s slow-thinking, weathered stubbornness is so realistic he can be mistaken for the real Jose, even though certain scenes give away the fiction. It is hard to imagine, for example, how a documentary cameraman could capture such rich moments of articulate dialogue as lenser Afra Rigamonti does. Yet buoyed by bright, unflattering lighting and awkward camera jiggling, the illusion of raw non-fiction persists.

Action is briskly paced by editor Sergio Dies, who slips in what looks like newsreel footage of protest marches by the “Free Money” demonstrators. On the other hand, these might be staged, too. A peppy music track pops with pieces by Jalea Real, Lhasa and the Italian political rap group 99 Posse.

The Taxi Thief

Spain

Production

A ZIP Films, Catalan Television production. (International sales: ZIP Films, Barcelona.) Produced by Jordu Rediu, Norbert Llaras. Directed, written by Jo Sol.

Crew

Camera (color), Afra Rigamonti; editor, Sergio Dies; music, Jalea Real, Lhasa, 99 Posse. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Zabaltegi), Sept. 21, 2005. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Jose - Pepe Rovira Mar - Marc Sempere
With: Francesc Arnau, Marcos Rovira, Santiago Lopez Petit, Vicente Escolar, Miguel Angel Lapuyade, Jonas Lapuyade, Antoni Laparra, Marina Garces. (Spanish, Catalan dialogue)
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