Coming-of-ager “You’re My Hero” benefits from being set at an exciting time, namely Spain’s late-’70s transition from dictatorship to democracy. Though sometimes cliched and dramatically uncertain in its first half, pic’s authentic robustness in the second half allows it to rise above the level of just a charming nostalgia piece. However, the overall lack of originality destines this sophomore outing by writer-director Antonio Cuadri (“Living It Up,” 2000) to remain limited to Spanish-speaking territories and the occasional fest showing.
Because of his father’s job, 12-year-old Ramon (Manuel Lozano) transfers from school to school, ending up in Seville in 1975 shortly before Franco’s death. There he’s bullied by a gang led by Rafa (Alfonso Mena) and including the mysterious, silent Ortega (Pablo Acosta). The unhappy Ramon retreats into talking to Watercloud (Antonio Dechent), a comic book red Indian who becomes real. Watercloud advises Ramon to stand up to the bullies, which Ramon does by head-butting Rafa.
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Ramon then falls in with blonde-haired David (Felix Lopez) and discovers girls in the form of Paloma (Carmen Navarro). In a standard rites-of-passage sequence, his attempted seduction of her goes comically wrong.
In class one day, Mateo (Toni Canto), a left-wing history teacher, decides to explain what the word “fascist” means after swearing his pupils to secrecy. As a result, the gang decides to take revenge against Francoist teacher Don Felix (Juan Fernandez) by puncturing his car tires. When Felix finds out that Ramon is responsible, the kid is faced with the kind of moral dilemma typical of coming-of-agers.
The unpretentious script avoids the laborious moralizing and metaphors that Spanish political cinema is so fond of, keeping its focus firmly on characters rather than ideas. As Ramon, teenager Lozano appears in practically every scene and shoulders the responsibility well, his cheeky, wide-eyed features a mask for his multiple insecurities. Other perfs from a low-profile cast are solid, particularly from Lopez, whose relationship with Ramon feels entirely plausible.
Period detail lends context and interest to the otherwise bland tale. There’s a neat reference to the fact that color TVs did not catch on in Spain until the ’70s, while the jumpy political climate — street violence, demonstrations and graffiti — is amply portrayed. Period music is the brash, disagreeable Eurofare of the period, while Carita Boronska’s piano-based score is low-key and affecting.