Spanish cinema is short of well-made, old-fashioned heartwarmers, but “Forever Young” aims to put that right. An unabashed nostalgia-fest for its thirtysomething helmer-scripter, pic is all about laughter, tears and kids on bicycles riding through dappled forests. But thanks to the air of sincerity that suffuses this yarn about the ups and downs of a group of teens on summer vacation more emotion than sentimentality comes through, despite some string-pulling. Pic took the audience award at Spain’s recent Malaga fest, and could stir feelings in a range of territories.
Adman Sala (Alex Brendemuhl) is zooming through the countryside toward a crucial meeting when he comes across the body of a child lying in the road — a nice foreshadowing of a key later event, typical of Albert Espinosa’s well-crafted script. It’s a practical joke by a group of kids, one that ends up leaving Sala pants-less, at which point he meets kooky, free-spirited hitchhiker Cristina (Eva Santolaria). Pic then moves between their car ride — with Sala becoming increasingly irritated with Cristina — and events back in the 1980s. These two strands link up only in the film’s final 10 minutes.
In the ’80s strand, sensitive preteen Xavi (Ferran Rull) has gone on vacation with his mother, Gloria (Emma Suarez), and stepfather, Lluis (Lluis Homar), whom he despises; he hasn’t been told that his father has left home for good.
Every summer, Xavi meets up with his buddies — including Cristo (Mireia Vilapuig, charming), who has a soft spot for Xavi, and Roth (Joan Sorribes), who has Down syndrome — to hang out and try to win a race that will give them the use of a treehouse for the summer. They are joined by nerdy comic relief Colo (Marc Balaguer). Plotwise, it’s pretty standard fare, as Xavi flirts with beauty Helena (Nerea Camacho, making her first appearance since “Camino”), and waits for the butterflies in his stomach to start, as predicted by his big brother, Erkaitz (Alex Monner). During this time, the kids are bullied by an older band of kids.
As disciplinarian stepdad Lluis struggles with his emotions in trying to get Xavi on his side, tragedy strikes after an hour and a half, whereupon the last part of the pic becomes a no-holds-barred weepie.
Freixas has elicited good work from the young cast, a pretty winsome bunch we can expect to see more of in the future. Other thesps are solid, with Brendemuhl (playing against type, but still bringing a nicely sour counterpoint to things) and Santolaria striking just the right sparks off one another.
The visuals are mostly softened by the natural light of a Spanish summer, with evocative locations well selected.
Arnam Bataller’s orchestral score is pretty, and generally on the right side of slop, but when the period songs kick in — particularly Alphaville’s corny “Forever Young” — things turn sickly, except for one witty, watch-for-it moment involving Cristo dancing.
Local critics have been quick to point out similarities to ’80s Spanish TV show “Blue Summer,” while a well-placed “Goonies” poster can be seen in one of the kids’ rooms.