An older man and teenage woman team to original and compelling effect in “The Weakness of the Bolshevik,” the feature debut of Manuel Martin Cuenca, known for docu “The Cuban Game.” This superbly helmed and played parable of moral breakdown and recovery maintains a trembling tension, built on the script’s avoidance of the obvious, that’s let down only by a weak conclusion. Featuring another first-class perf by Luis Tosar (“Mondays in the Sun”) and a charismatic new face in Maria Valverde, “Weakness” has the strength, if handled correctly, to create as much offshore interest as any Spanish debut this year.
Attitude-heavy Pablo (Tosar), a Madrid banker in his 30s, has more chips on his shoulder than brain cells. He runs into rich, snobbish Sonsoles (Mar Regueras) in a traffic jam but his attraction for her vanishes when he finds out she’s put in a claim for injuries.
Bored with life, Pablo decides to play mind games with Sonsoles. He follows her to a school where she picks up her 15-year-old sister, Maria (Valverde). After Pablo makes anonymous dirty calls to Sonsoles, the latter asks a cop friend, Alfredo (Jordi Dauder), for help. So Pablo decides to trail Maria.
One of pic’s strengths is that the viewer is never quite sure about Pablo’s motives –he isn’t either. After meeting with Maria in a park and pretending to be a police officer, he’s disarmed by her feisty attitude and becomes obsessed by her. He abandons his duties at work and ignores a colleague, Eva (Nathalie Poza), with whom he’s been having casual sex.
The cat-and-mouse buildup of the relationship is intelligently done, with much of pic’s central section a simple two-hander. Pablo is a peculiarly contempo figure, ruthless and ambitious but also insecure and bitter about the person his work has made him.
For her age, Maria is intelligent, streetwise and confident. There’s palpable sexual tension between her and Pablo, but what looks to be developing into an appalling tale of pedophilia quickly turns into a dangerous relationship between equals, each finding something needed in the other.
The offbeat, if sometimes overly languid, love story has Pablo desperately going in search of the innocence in Maria he feels he has sacrificed in his job. Tosar adds another variation to his standard gentle-hearted brute persona, his impassive features suggestive of turbulence beneath. Newcomer Valverde more than holds her own opposite him, managing to convince the viewer that Maria could actually have some interest in the older, physically unprepossessing Pablo.
Score by Roque Banos and Alfonso Parra’s lensing are suitably unobtrusive.