Arefreshingly unfashionable and affectionate look at friendship, romance and the generation gap, “Hi, Are You Alone?” manages, despite its terrible title, to bring a new and peculiarly Spanish angle to the time-honored theme of adolescent disappointments. Leisurely paced storyline and strong, involved perfs from a young cast should appeal to indie/arthouse auds with a taste for deceptively simple Mediterranean charm, and reps an accomplished, understated directing debut by Iciar Bollain, who played fiery militia woman Maite in “Land and Freedom.”
Pic opens with moody 20-year-old La Nina (Silke) and tubby, bubbly blond friend Trini (Candela Pena) leaving their provincial hometown to get rich.
First the drifters go to a resort, working for elderly English tourists, then head for Madrid, where they meet up with La Nina’s mother, Marilo (Elena Irureta). Things are tense between mother and daughter, especially after Trini befriends Marilo. In a bar, La Nina picks up lanky Russian construction worker Olaf (Arcadi Levin), who speaks no Spanish and disappears for days at a time.
Marilo has the idea of setting up a beach bar to make some easy money, so with diminutive comic figure Pepe (Alex Angulo), who has an on-off relationship with Trini, they all set off for the coast. Olaf says he’ll follow, but doesn’t show.
Pic is as loose and episodic as its plot summary sounds, but Bollain captures the uncertainty of fragile young people caught between a rejection of their problematic pasts and a fear of the future. The 28-year-old helmer seems aware of her own limitations and content to describe rather than impose meanings, often letting the camera linger on faces in hopes of catching something unexpected.
Silke and Pena make the friendship between the two girls — on which the pic’s success depends — ring true. Only dramatic question marks are the role of Pepe and the relationship between mother and daughter, which is left unresolved for too long.
Overall, the movie has a warm, intimate tone, at times approaching a fly-on-the-wall documentary, and also captures life in a low-rent neighborhood of Madrid in all its attention-grabbing ugliness. Pic won new director prize at last year’s Valladolid fest.