A single mom’s struggles to raise her family in adverse circumstances are brought to vivid dramatic life in “Rumble of the Stones,” a social drama that bravely aims to fuse a realistic study of Venezuelan life to a crowd-pleasing dramatic structure. Though sometimes overly familiar and marred by a tendency to lapse into schmaltz, given its melodramatic storyline, this tidily plotted follow-up to helmer Alejandro Bellame Palacios’ smaller-scale debut, “The Color of Fame,” looks great, packs an emotional punch and features a fine perf from Rossana Fernandez in a challenging central role. “Stones” should roll into Spanish-speaking territories.
After seeing her home destroyed and her daughter killed in the flash floods that destroyed Venezuela’s 1999 Vargas region, Delia (Fernandez) has relocated to a cramped room in a Caracas slum with her mother, Raiza (Aminta de Lara), and her sons, teenage William (Christian Gonzalez) and 11-year-old Santiago (Juan Carlos Nunez). Delia works in a poultry plant and is saving up for a new home, but to her chagrin, William is hanging out with pistol-toting lowlifes.
Delia finds a gun under William’s mattress and angrily throws it away, unwittingly endangering his life since the weapon belongs to gangleader El Mota (the wonderfully named Zapato 666). Delia is now faced with a tough decision that generates some real drama: Pay for the pistol and lose her chance of a new home, or let William face his problem alone. From there, Delia’s obstacles continue to pile up at an alarming rate.
Though the easy dramatic option would have been to make Delia a straight-up heroine, the script is careful to show she’s no angel. Her worthy ambition — one that has been criticized by some in Venezuela as revealing the pic’s bourgeois ideology — is to get her family out of the slums, but her ambition also makes her blind to the tricks of appalling con man El Fauna (Laureano Olivares), who plunges her into still further wretchedness.
Other perfs are fine, with youngster Nunez really coming into his own after a disturbing scene in which Delia takes him to visit his father’s grave for the first time; Gonzalez is likewise convincing. But Raiza is pretty much superfluous, her encroaching blindness doing little besides adding another layer of misery.
The violence of the slums has been more authentically and energetically rendered than it is here, but “Stones” is nonetheless often a visual treat, with some striking nighttime shots of the city. Local street-gang argot (largely incomprehensible for those who don’t use it), is avoided, which sacrifices some credibility but keeps the door open for pickups in other Spanish-language territories.
A derivative, often overblown score reps the pic’s weakest link, while a couple of inconsistencies have gone unnoticed: A tattoo Santiago acquires as a sign of his increasing wildness later just disappears. Some of the high-passion dialogue is too redolent of Latin American soaps, though perhaps fittingly for lives led on the emotional edge.
Pic’s title refers to the noise of the stones carried by the flash floods, metaphorically underscoring the notion that inside every ugly lump of rock is a sculpture — a thing of beauty — waiting to emerge.