A young boy’s need for familial connections following a tragedy gradually softens his hard-hearted grandpa in Leo Ricciardi’s mild feature debut, “Young Blood.” With a roster of elder statesmen of the Argentine and Spanish cinema including Norma Aleandro, Oscar Alegre and Maria Galiana, pic’s showcase of these still-vivid thesps is by far its most notable quality. Ricciardi’s story is barely above tube status, but a few striking scenes suggest Ricciardi may be a potentially interesting addition to the bulging roster of Argentine helmers. Latin American distribs should take note, while markets elsewhere point mainly to vid.
Raised under slightly boho conditions by his DJ dad Francisco (Fernando Pena) and artist mom Clara (Ana Fernandez), little Santiago (Yaco Levy) is a study in contentment until a fatal car accident turns his life upside down and sends him to live with his grandfather. A similar turn of events in Pablo Trapero’s new “Born and Bred,” treated as a nightmare in that film, is handled here with near-absurd touches.
Clara had fallen out with her old-fashioned father, Spanish emigre Juan (Alegre) when she gave birth to Santiago. Now, Juan must raise Santiago.
The old man gives the lad the silent treatment, displaying no signs of love, and, to make matters worse, Juan lives in an old farmhouse on the pampas — a world away from Santiago’s friends and familiar surroundings.
Juan’s housekeeper, Manuela (Galiana), however, takes the boy under her wing with a warmth that echoes some of the maternal power in Adolfo Aristarain’s masterpiece, “Roma,” in which Galiana appeared. Ricciardi shows the ironic contrast between the massive skies and wide-open plains outdoors and the house’s suffocating atmosphere inside, and it appears pic is on its way to majestic second and third acts.
Tone, though, remains more placid than charged, and a dullness comes over the film that a few family revelations can’t reverse. It takes an awfully long time for Santiago (and Manuela) to get across to Juan that the kid needs to get back to school and be with others his own age, and even the usually effective Alegre is unable to sustain Juan’s grumpy growling and stolid countenance for the distance that the script demands.
Grande dame Aleandro’s scenes as neighbor Josefina may not quite save “Young Blood,” but certainly invigorate it, along with the presence of her infirm, wheelchair-bound son Pablo (Damien Canduci). A meller turn near the end betrays a lack of faith in the tale’s potency, and seems little more than a convenient device to teach Juan that he needs Santiago in his life.
A sprig among elderly giants, Levy is fortunately not directed to act cute, but he’s not especially memorable either. Technical aspects are pro if less cinematically striking than the work of Ricciardi’s top contemporaries. For the record, subtitle translates Spanish title in literal fashion as “Pure Blood.”