In this portrait of lost youth, Guatemalan first-time director Julio Hernandez Cordon prominently displays his pitifully scarce resources in the guise of minimalism. Nighttime scenes are lit solely by occasional, isolated streetlamps, under which the pic’s three vaguely middle-class teenage protagonists desultorily hang out. When not siphoning gas or eluding the angry fathers of girls they’ve impregnated, the guys display their charmless, backstabbing approximation of macho friendship through assorted abandonments and betrayals. Narrow, petty, suffused with bitterness and devoid of any glimmer of humor (no “Duck Season” this), “Gasolina” is unlikely to put Guatemala on the cinematic map.
Not surprisingly, once these adolescents venture outside their safe little bourgeois haven, events spiral completely out of control. The only kid with any redeeming social value (e.g., the one whose reactions are not entirely determined by malice and self-interest) maintains the frailest hold on survival, his asthma a sure signal that the pic’s atmosphere will prove terminally toxic. Helmer Cordon sustains a certain stylistic rigor throughout, but whatever aesthetic muscle the camera can summon fails to penetrate the miasma of nihilistic gloom.