A single mother of a leukemia-stricken child is redeemed by the titular positive force in Paco Torres’ intriguing debut, “The Magic of Hope.” Starting out as a po-faced tale of endurance, pic develops into a convincing, quietly affirmative fable about the transformative power of human goodness. Featuring a searching central perf from Patricia Garcia Mendez and employing a distinctive mix of grit and lyricism working in mutually beneficial counterpoint, pic is far from perfect, but its seriousness of purpose and undertow of emotional truth could be met with applause by fest auds.
Like Benito Zambrano’s groundbreaking “Alone,” to which it initially bears a strong resemblance, pic is set in a barrio on the outskirts of Seville. Camera operator Blanca (Mendez) is the mother of Aran (Miriam Garcia), who suffers a cancer relapse at the pic’s start and eventually falls into a coma. Blanca sinks further into depression after her attempts to contact Aran’s apparently feckless Irish father for a bone-marrow transplant prove fruitless. The unwanted attentions of wildly optimistic window-cleaner Talo (Juan Martin) do little to cheer her up.
But spiritual help is at hand from Cometa (Juan Motilla), a street musician who has made it a point to be generous to as many down-and-outs as possible. Beneficiaries of his kindness include his simple-minded sidekick, Super (Julio Jordan), and Aamori (Viviane Araujo), a pregnant Portuguese immigrant whose world soon merges with Blanca’s.
Pic is grounded by a solid, committed turn from Mendez in her first leading role. One heartbreaking scene showcases her acting chops when the camera is trained on her face for close to a minute as she hugs Aran. Perfs from thesps playing a gallery of outcasts are up to scratch, but Motilla tends toward exaggeration, and struggles to bring credibility to a character who apparently has not a single embittered bone in his body. He’s literally too good to be true.
Pacing is unrushed and well judged, allowing the small details to shine through, but little damage would have been done by losing Aamori’s subplot, one brutal scene from which seems to have been included solely to sidestep accusations of sentimentality. But the script’s emotional authenticity and lack of histrionics elsewhere ensure such criticisms are mostly misplaced.
Lensing, full of crisply textured images that make great use of the clean contrasts between light and shadow, is conceived and executed with care. The general style, however, is at times too showy. Helmer Torres enjoys having scenes unfold in rearview mirrors or on TV sets in shop windows, which can be distracting; visuals are more effective when taking a more direct approach.
Music is essential to the mood throughout, whether using violins tinged with Irish melancholy or punchy blues items by singer-songwriter Bai Kamara. Spanish title translates as “The Flight of the Train,” a reference to a children’s story about not losing hope, and is better than the misleadingly bland English equivalent.