Tijuana Makes Me Happy" is an example of nuevo-realism, with nonprofessionals cast in a semi-documentary-style dramedy shot on location in and around Playas de Tijuana. It's a slight but likable coming-of-age story about a Mexican youngster eager to own a prized cockfighting rooster. Winner of the top jury prize for dramatic feature at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival, the pic could merit limited theatrical play in markets with significant clusters of Spanish-speaking auds.

Tijuana Makes Me Happy” is an example of nuevo-realism, with nonprofessionals cast in a semi-documentary-style dramedy shot on location in and around Playas de Tijuana. It’s a slight but likable coming-of-age story about a Mexican youngster eager to own a prized cockfighting rooster. Winner of the top jury prize for dramatic feature at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival, the pic could merit limited theatrical play in markets with significant clusters of Spanish-speaking auds.

Working from a script he co-wrote with James Lefkowitz, helmer Dylan Verrechia draws persuasive performances from his ensemble of nonpros. Of course, it helps that the actors are playing characters loosely based on themselves. (Filmmakers reportedly spent several weeks in the Tijuana area, observing and befriending locals, then used real-life stories as the basis for lightly fictionalized characters.) Even so, the unaffected qualify of thesping is genuinely impressive across the board.

Pablo Tendilla Ortiz is an artlessly engaging screen presence as Indio, the pic’s young protagonist. For his 15th birthday, Indio wants his hard-working mechanic father, Jhonny (Pablo Tendilla Rocha, the young actor’s real-life dad), to help him purchase an expensive rooster from a local farmer.

But Jhonny can’t afford the pricey fowl, so he offers his son another present: A hour or so with Brianda (Darina Rabago Soto), a curvy 17-year-old hooker. During their first encounter, Pablo is too shy to do anything with her. Second time, however, is the charm.

Some viewers may feel uneasy during two scenes (one featuring partial nudity) in which a 15-year-old boy contemplates sex. Others may be repulsed by the pic’s nonjudgmental depiction of cockfighting. All in all, though, Verrechia’s canny restraint and sympathetic P.O.V. keep the pic from ever seeming exploitative or melodramatic, as Pablo doggedly pursues ways to make money.

Even when Pablo is paid by a dealer to transport drugs to customers across the border in San Diego, “Tijuana Makes Me Happy” sustains the same light tone — almost like that of a modern-day fable — prevalent in scenes where the industrious youngster merely washes cars or sells empanadas. There are Disney Channel telepics that convey an edgier sense of danger than the one imparted here.

“Tijuana Makes me Happy” clocks in at 79 minutes, just long enough for comfort. Working with obviously limited means, Verrechia nonetheless manages to employ a variety of visual stratagems, so that the pic sporadically suggests everything from a peppy musicvideo to no-frills cinema verite. Soundtrack includes well-chosen pop tunes by Tijuana recording artists Nortec Collective (who perform the catchy title song) and Soxiedad Anonima.

Tijuana Makes Me Happy

MEXICO – U.S.

Production

A 25th Frame release of a Palenque Filmacioes production. Produced by James Lefkowitz. Executive producers: Jean Verrechia, James Lefkowitz. Co-producer: Pablo Tendilla Rocha. Directed by Dylan Verrechia. Screenplay, Verrechia, James Lefkowitz.

Crew

Camera (DV, color), Lefkowitz; editor, Lefkowitz; music, Nortec Collective, Soxiedad Anonima; sound, Leonardo Costa-Gomes, Julio Molina; casting, Aidee Gonzalez. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Jan. 27, 2007. (At Slamdance Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 79 MIN. (Spanish, English dialogue)

With

Indio - Pablo Tendilla Ortiz Jhonny - Pablo Tendilla Rocha Rebecca - Aidee Gonzalez Brianda - Darina Rabago Soto Sacramento - Jorge Hernandez Luis - Luis Carmona Arochi
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