An immensely likable if overly lengthy film steeped in Mexican youth culture, “The Cinema Hold Up” offers a wealth of organic pleasures in addition to its titular heist theme. Basically consisting of long, authentic hangout scenes interrupted (pleasantly) by an elaborate robbery and (unpleasantly) by a few contrived subplots, the film could be a hard sell outside of fests and its home territory, though it announces debut director-writer Iria Gomez Conchiero as a talent worth tracking.
Gomez Conchiero acknowledges a debt to Italian neorealism and Brazilian Novo Cinema in her production notes, and accordingly has a jones for gritty locations, long tracking shots and non-pro actors. Yet she doesn’t push any sort of sociopolitical agenda, and her work here (shooting entirely in Mexico City’s colorful yet notorious Colonia Guerrero) has an effortless sense of place.
Of special note are the performances she elicits out of her quartet of teenage amateurs, an instantly relatable gang of stoners, skaters and aspiring rappers who decide to rob the local multiplex for lack of anything better to do. Group leader Negus (Gabino Rodriguez) is a Mussolini-jawed silent type, baby-faced Chale (Juan Pablo de Santiago) is in love with an older married woman, Sapo (Angel Sosa) is a dim bulb with violent tendencies, and Chata (Paulina Avalos) is the guy’s-girl who puts up with them. Their character types are all familiar, but their rapport feels fresh.
The director keeps things visually interesting as she follows the gang through clever bull sessions, run-ins with the cops and ceaseless pot-smoking, and in fact the movie only drags when she attempts to force some backstories upon them. Long after they’ve hatched the robbery idea, each character is given a specific reason for needing the money, though simple boredom was actually a much more persuasive motivating factor.
The heist scene, when it finally comes, is played very well — emphasizing the idle yet agonizing set-up moments — as is the immediate aftermath. A scene where the nervous bandits can’t stop giggling beforehand, and a later one where they fight for the privilege of buying one another breakfast, are both delightful.
The 16mm photography is smart, highlighting the director’s skill in establishing recurring visual motifs without overstressing their significance. The Mexican hip-hop soundtrack is atmospherically appropriate.