Medium-length features are difficult to program, yet when a film-school graduation pic comes along as discreetly accomplished as “The Tears,” it deserves a place at the adults’ table. Shooting on Super 16 in Academy ratio, Pablo Delgado Sanchez captures the pain of a family in breakup mode, honing in on two brothers coming to terms with their father’s exit. Sanchez drops viewers into this milieu and lets the emotions radiate out in a way that eliminates the need for exposition, offering a sensitive, well-handled lesson on what subtlety and modesty of means can achieve. Fests should call.
Gabriel (Gabriel Santoyo), 11, is introduced with a mask on his face reading Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” The book is appropriate in many ways, not least because the young boy has to face down some disturbing inner demons. Shots of Gabriel wandering the house, in the bored way kids do when they wake up before anyone else, reveal a home in disarray: There are packing cartons scattered about, used pizza boxes stacking up, piles of dirty laundry. The camera doesn’t emphasize the mess, but the careful art direction precludes the necessity for much explanation.
Older brother Fernando (Fernando Alvarez Rebeil), hung over, comes into the house from a night out, and mom (Claudette Maille) finally exits her bedroom, makeup on from the day before, and not exactly in a warm and communicative mood. Her appearance is brief anyway, and on returning to her room, she locks the door. Young Gabriel, desperate for a playmate, sees this inexplicable, exclusionary behavior and is frustrated by the lack of interaction. Then Fernando tells him that a friend ankled a proposed camping trip, and invites Gabriel to come along instead.
Thrilled to be included in his big brother’s plans, Gabriel isn’t prepared for Fernando’s rage and depression: though Sanchez doesn’t make it explicit, it’s clear the boys’ father left the family. Gabriel is perhaps too young to fully understand the ramifications of this abandonment, but for Fernando, in his early 20s, it’s a festering wound too fresh to disguise. The day in the forest (harking back to Sendak), and night by the campfire are, unsurprisingly, crucibles of discovery for the two boys, yet Sanchez’s light touch keeps the scenes fresh and meaningful.
Remarkably, the scripter-helmer went into production with just a three page treatment and no dialogue; the flow of conversation (though there’s not much) and the ease with which the actors interact speak to their skill and Sanchez’s ability to flesh out his ideas through rehearsals, lensing, and editing. The Academy ratio adds to the intimacy, emphasizing the bond between the brothers, yet also highlighting an almost boxed-in loneliness. Super 16 gives the whole a welcome tactility, and the indie-informed camerawork becomes looser as the brothers ease into their journey together.