The latest in a spate of teen disaffection movies out of Spain, Cesar Martinez Herrada’s punchy, low-frills “Sand in Your Pockets” follows Alberto Rodriguez’s recent Spanish hit “7 Virgins” in its low-sentiment, high-grit approach to its blighted young protags’ lives. As with Herrada’s previous work, pic’s concern with realism over romance offers little charm or humor to make the material palatable, but energetic, compassionate and refreshingly unpatronizing treatment should carry it into fest sidebars with a social conscience. A cult following at home is also possible.
Lively Ivan (Andreas Munoz), abandoned by his parents, lives in a reform school in a Madrid barrio, where do-gooder Mateo (Daniel Guzman) is responsible for him. Ivan’s relationship with a new arrival at school, surly rebel Romanian Lionel (Nicolae Nicula) is initially combative, but later settles into friendship.
Meanwhile, unemployed mechanic Julian (Antonio Dechent, superb as ever) takes his frustrations out on his daughter Elena (Clara Lago). Elena and her friend, Jenny (Yohana Cobo) hang out with Ivan and Lionel, but disapprove of the boys’ rebelliousness and petty crimes. Things lead inevitably to a robbery and a long ride to the coast for the quartet.
The script nimbly and unhurriedly explores the small tragedies of these lives and what the victims do to escape them — which basically amounts to smoking dope and stealing. Space is found along the way for sideswipes at a range of contempo social malaises, including domestic violence and the miserable working and living conditions of immigrants, but it is to the script’s credit that things are never merely preachy.
Perfs are efficient. Cobo and Lago come with bigger reputations than the boys, and Munoz, the youngest of the four and with the meatiest role, stakes his claim as a thesp to watch as the upbeat Ivan, degenerating into emotional confusion following a meeting with his mother. Newcomer Nicolae has presence, but sometimes looks out of his depth. Daniel Guzman is an unconvincing Mateo.
There are tech nods to docu via hand-held camera, but style is basically low-key and unfussy. Early reels are full of accurately rendered claustrophobic interiors, which give way later on to the wider spaces of the open road once the kids have made their escape.
Soundtrack is bouncy rumba-inflected pop, mixed with local hip-hop. For the record, pic features snatches of Romanian language.