Younger brother of director Fernando Trueba (“Belle Epoque,” “Two Much”), 26-year-old David Trueba has come up with a charming, carefully crafted and low-key tragicomedy with his debut, “The Good Life.” Growing-up pic should behave well at home and at fests and, though its quiet, Rohmer-ish appeal does not send out commercial shock-waves, it deserves to break offshore as a good example of the new wave of post-Almodovar talent.
Intelligent and gutsy 15-year-old Tristan (Fernando Ramallo), the kind of kid who has pictures of Dostoevsky on his bedroom wall and hates pop music, has decided to write his life story. His parents (Vicky Pena, Jordi Bosch) are members of the left-wing bourgeois who are obsessed with getting out of Franco’s Spain and going to Paris, while Tristan himself is obsessed with growing up — which, as far as he is concerned, means losing his virginity. The family lives with his embittered grandfather (Luis Cuenca, in a masterfully world-weary perf), whose failing lungs provide some aurally disturbing moments.
The movie’s early scenes have an over-leisurely feel, though Trueba displays a good eye for the small absurdities of family life. Pic finds its feet after Tristan, with his parents away in Paris, invites a prostitute, Arena (Alma Rosa), to the house. That same night, he discovers his parents have been killed in a car crash.
Tristan goes to live with his aunt, and meets his slightly older, punky cousin Lucia (Lucia Jimenez), with whom he falls in love. His relationships with those around him — particularly with his caring teacher Isabel (Isabel Otero) and his grandfather — alter dramatically as he is forced to grow up fast.
The rites-of-passage subject matter is hardly new, but the depth and sensitivity of the central perfs are sufficiently absorbing to make us care. Film’s strengths are its keen eye for the idiosyncrasies of real people and its refusal to use potentially melodramatic material to manipulate the audience. The script is subtly balanced, resolutely unpatronizing to its largely sub-18 cast, and successful in bringing Tristan’s various relationships to life.
Only faults are a subplot involving a previous relationship between Tristan’s father and his aunt that easily could have been eliminated, and a final fantasy scene that’s at dramatic odds with the pic’s realism. Tech credits are good, and occasionally daring, without being showy.