A coterie of young urban professionals lose their way in Spain’s economic crisis in multihyphenate Demian Sabini’s winning sleeper “Rooftops.” Unpretentious and made on a shoestring ($16,000), this spare indie production isn’t the first pic to deal with the country’s financial disaster, and it won’t be the last. But its likable characters and lack of dramatics make “Rooftops” an easy-to-digest diversion with something substantive underneath. DIY distrib at home means impact will be minimal, though smallscreen exposure could boost interest.
It’s debatable whether the lately overused cinematic technique of shifting back and forth in time adds anything to the buildup, though it doesn’t detract much from the storytelling here. At the, start Leo (helmer Sabini) looks like just a scruffy-bearded slacker whiling away his days sunning himself on miscellaneous rooftops around Barcelona. He’s joined by Mario (Alain Hernandez) and Elsa (Carolina Cabrerizo), both unemployed and apparently doing nothing to change the situation.
Via flashbacks, it’s revealed that Leo was a young lawyer in Mario’s small, unconventional firm, with Elsa as secretary. Spain’s economic collapse wiped out Mario’s shingle, sending the boss to the bottle, and leaving Leo and Elsa to start questioning what they want out of life. Roof surfing shows their willingness to break hidebound bourgeois rules — the assorted buildings they use are private property, and accessing the roofs as non-residents is a no-no — while also signifying that they’re floundering.
The film’s point seems to be that these educated middle-class characters could never have guessed that the system would fail them so spectacularly. Their rooftop jaunts, where hours are spent doing nothing but reading, drinking and catching rays, are the result of a depression stemming from the realization that their lives won’t have the protection they grew up believing was their due. Sabini doesn’t say any of this directly, but it’s there in the attitudes as well as in the unquestioned sense of cautious financial stability embodied by Leo’s perplexed wife, Ana (Carla Perez).
To the helmer/scripter’s credit, he doesn’t demonize Ana for wanting a life of upward mobility, and though the majority of sympathy goes to Leo for discovering his true calling (and sticking it to a bigshot law firm during an interview), a modicum of nonjudgmental understanding also extends to his wife. Sabini, however, feels uncertain about his finale, which could easily have ended several minutes earlier.
Thesping has a breezy naturalness in keeping with the overall style, and despite the low budget, tech credits and visuals are never less than pleasing. Pic carries a 2011 date.