The delicately impressive, offbeat drama “Life Marks” reps a new direction for Enrique Urbizu, a helmer, whose specialty so far has been thrillers (“Box 507”). A pared-down brother-buddy drama featuring one high-profile thesp alongside a raft of virtual unknowns, pic’s multiple merits include a gold-plated, lovingly-worked script, a confident leisurely pace and the capacity to exploit minimal elements to the dramatic full. Given the low-profile cast and the lack of an easy genre tag, B.O. is not likely to be more than decent in local release, but Urbizu’s solid rep could lead to specialized appearances beyond Spanish-lingo territories.
Squarely at the center of pic is strong, silent cowboy type Pedro (Jose Coronado, encoring with Urbizu after last year’s “Box 507”). Pedro has returned to Spain, after some years in London doing shady business, to meet his long-lost brother, truck driver Fito (Juan Sanz), and Fito’s wife, Juana (debutante looker Zay Nuba).
Fito is an addictive gambler, perpetually scrounging for money. In comparison, the mysterious, taciturn Pedro is elegantly dressed, with a well-to-do air that makes him an immediate talking-point in the neighborhood and provokes his younger bro’s admiration.
When Fito leaves, and Pedro and Juana are left alone in the house, their erotic interest in one another awakens. This is rendered with great subtlety, through facial expressions and banal dialogue: One of pic’s strengths is its quietly compassionate observation of how everyday details must carry on while a cauldron of emotions is bubbling underneath. Slowly and silently, Pedro falls in love with Juana.
Details of Pedro’s past emerge gradually, but pic’s dramatic interest lies is the fact he’s an ambiguous figure who starts out looking like a villain but ends up more like a fairy godfather.
Of late, Coronado has become a guarantor of quality, appearing in four or five of Spanish cinema’s most interesting recent projects, and “Life” continues the trend. His commanding, impassive presence makes Pedro’s silences and evasions mesmerizing. Sanz and Nuba exude freshness and enthusiasm, in troubling counterpoint to the dire financial straits in which their characters find themselves.
Pic is set in a faceless suburb of some unnamed city, suggesting it aims to be a moral parable. Carles Gusi’s sunlight-drenched lensing is beautifully crisp and airy, in keeping with pic’s generally stark, clean-lined look.