Cunningly-structured noir “Celia’s Lives” is helmer Antonio Chavarrias’ finest work to date. A whodunit set in a working-class Barcelona barrio, entertaining pic was shot in somewhat wearying handheld, but its rapid-fire editing dazzles as it shuttles back and forth in time. The wildly fragmented chronology, however, although effective at first, starts to pall later on. But under the camera tricks and pop psychology is a solid, well-played item that could attract fests interested in the edgy.
Celia (Najwa Nimri), who lives with her husband Agustin (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), their son, and Ceilia’s younger sister Angela (Aida Folch), walks away from a fairground at night and, for reasons later explained, almost throws herself on the train tracks.
Celia’s second sister, Carmen (Mentxu Romero), splits up with social worker Jaime (Alex Casanovas) on the same night that 18 year-old Melany (Jimena Ayala) is raped and murdered.
When Angela turns up missing, the police think she could be another victim like Melany or could be implicated in Melany’s murder. Cop Miguel Angel (Luis Tosar) s assigned to find Melany’s murderer. He suspects Pedro (Javier Diaz), Melany’s violent skinhead boyfriend. Celia, however, believes Agustin is guilty; her reasons are revealed slowly, in fits and starts, as the backstory emerges.
The use of hand-held cameras and grainy stock (further muddied by the adoption of a pale sepia hue for backstory scenes), along with oddball framing often featuring tight-in close-ups of head and body sections, achieve realism, but sometimes feel uncomfortable.
The complex plot breaks down toward the end, when the identity of Melany’s killer is revealed. Nonetheless, pic rings psychologically true throughout, with one scene, featuring Celia and Agustin’s little boy, particularly well-observed.
A wide range of characters are brought convincingly to life, with the terse, held-back Tosar again confirming that he’s become one of Spain’s finest character actors. Nimri, however, sometimes struggles to fully articulate the unfocused Celia. Fernando Corona’s piano-based score is understated.