A bittersweet rural drama based on an idea by late Spanish helmer Ricardo Franco, “Cascabel” explores the same dark psychological terrain that was Franco’s trademark, though sans his intensity. The distinctive style and charm of this accomplished, low-key debut by Daniel Cebrian make it ideal fest fare, but its concerns and lack of obvious pull mean it’s unlikely to ring bells offshore.
Wannabe singer Luz (debutante Pilar Punzano) is back in the pueblo of her childhood after visiting Madrid in search of fame and being sexually abused there by record company exec Fredy Barleta (Jose Coronado). Luz has given up on fame, but her friend Cascabel, a songwriter (Irene Visedo, also debuting), is still hopeful: An escape to the capital with Luz would offer the chance of fleeing her violently possessive father, Tadeo (Antonio Dechent). For years, he has made her wear a little bell (in Spanish, cascabel) around her ankle so he can always locate her.
The dynamics of rural life are well captured, as are the emotional trials and tribulations of the girls. Luz’ jealous childhood b.f., Ramon (Javier Albala), doesn’t want her to leave, and her father, an ex-cop (Chete Lera), is suffering from extreme depression and has stopped talking. Meanwhile, Cascabel meets Tomas (Aitor Merino) — who offers her another possible means of escape that involves inviting Barleta to the village for some hunting.
Pic is good at dissecting the tragedies that can lie behind the kinds of rural lives deemed “simple,” and at showing the tensions brewing in isolated communities. Pacing, though, is uneven — some early establishing scenes drag, and in the final reel events pile up too quickly for narrative comfort. Perfs are generally good, especially from Visedo as the ever-positive Cascabel, and Dechent as the broodingly inarticulate Tadeo. But Coronado, last seen in Carlos Saura’s “Goya in Bordeaux,” here seems to be acting by numbers.