Last year, Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” loomed large, featuring on the fest’s largest billboard. And this year, Daniel Sánchez Arévalo’s “Seventeen” occupied four adjacent billboards along the festival’s most highly trafficked walkway.
Premiering to industry and press on Thursday, the film’s first public screenings kicked off this morning at 9am. So far, the buzz has been good.
Two days before turning 18, Héctor escapes the juvenile detention center he’s lived in for two years after a dog he had been rehabilitating – although who was rehabilitating who is a matter for debate – is adopted and no longer able to visit the center.
After making good his escape, Héctor (Montoro) half-bakes a multi-part plan to A: Recruit his older brother Ismael (Nacho Sánchez) to his cause, B: Get his terminally ill grandmother out of her care facility so she the three can spend her final days together, and C: Get back his dog Oveja (Sheep).
He’s got 48 hours to turn himself back in to the center, as once he turns 18 any legal transgressions come with jail time.
Packed into Ismael’s RV, the three set out on a petty crime-fueled road trip across the stunning Cantabria coast for a journey that will change their family for good and hopefully for the better.
A dog lover himself, Arévalo used only shelter animals in the film and found adoptive homes for each dog used, including Sheep who now lives with lead actor Biel Montoro.
Arévalo first burst on the scene with “Azuloscurocasinegro” (“DarkBlueAlmostBlack”), which won the Label Europa Cinemas and UAAR Awards at Venice and three Spanish Academy Goya awards. Since then he has directed award-winning fare such as “Gordos,” “Cousinhood” and “Family United.” Family is never far from the center of Arévalo’s work.
As is the case for many if not most Spaniards living in the country’s urban centers, Arévalo, born and raised in Madrid, doesn’t consider himself from the Spanish capital. During Friday’s press conference, he explained the decision to shoot Cantabria, despite the difficulties it caused.
“I was born in Madrid but that was a coincidence. My family is from Cantabria and I love it there,” he said. “When I created this story, I knew I needed to film it in Cantabria because there I felt at home.”
He credits Netflix for making the shoot possible.
“With Netflix there is something marvelous from a production standpoint. They let me make this film the way I wanted,” he explained. It’s a small film, but not a cheap film. It’s not cheap to shoot in Cantabria for eight weeks with a full crew.”
A story about dogs, troubled teens, dying grandmas and a curative road trip seems ripe for melodrama or cliché, so during production Arévalo focused more on what he could leave out than what could be added.
“What I tried to do was get rid of extraneous elements and tell a simple story with a lot of emotion. This is a naked film with two brothers on a trip and one single plot behind it all. My job here was to take things away and not force any situation. Not for humor nor drama,” he said.
“Seventeen” was produced for Netflix by José Antonio Félez’s Atípica, a go-to company for the biggest broadcasters in Spain and Arévalo’s long time production partner. The company backed Movistar+’s early and most ambitious push into original high-end series “The Plague,” as well as theatrical hits such as 2016’s multi-award winning “El hombre de las mil caras” and David Serrano’s “We Need to Talk.”
“The way we approach all our productions at Atipica is very similar,” Félez told Variety in San Sebastian. “We work hard to produce the best product possible and that it can find the public for whom it is intended. If we take care of the details, the final product will be better.”
“Seventeen” will release theatrically in Spain for two weeks on Oct 4, before going live on Netflix worldwide Oct 18.