A cambio de nada: The boys from the ‘hood
by Alfonso Rivera
- With his feature debut, actor Daniel Guzmán proves he has learnt a lot while shooting short films
The 18th edition of the Málaga Spanish Film Festival stands out because of two coincidences. Firstly, three actors – Leticia Dolera, with Requisitos para ser una persona normal [+see also:
film profile]; Zoe Berriatúa, con Los héroes del mal (read the review and the interview); and Daniel Guzmán, with A cambio de nada [+see also:
interview: Daniel Guzmán
film profile] – are making their directorial debuts with fiction features after cutting their teeth in the world of short films. Secondly, various titles – Los héroes del mal, El país del miedo [+see also:
film profile] (by Francisco Espada, about bullying at school) and the one we will cover here, A cambio de nada (lit. “In Exchange for Nothing”) – portray the difficulties encountered by modern teenagers, all adopting different tones, but all reflecting a society lacking in affection and communication, and one in need of urgent and effective therapy if we intend to spare our offspring from having to suffer the consequences.
Guzmán, aged 41, spent ten years getting this project off the ground, a project he has imbued with a great deal of input from his experiences as a boy from a Madrilenian neighbourhood. He took on the tasks of executive producer himself and managed to attract backing from companies such as La Competencia, Ulula Films, La Mirada Oblicua and Zircozine (owned by Luis Tosar, who has a brief but important role in the movie), as well as Telefónica Studios, Canal Sur, TVE and Canal+. Even Warner Bros Spain was so fascinated with the end result that it decided to distribute it (it will be released on 8 May).
And it deserves it. The movie, which could pass itself off as an after-dinner TV film about rites of passage, wins over the viewer with its well-oiled secret weapons: it speaks the truth, its characters are believable, and the dialogue is terrific. It is very difficult to write conversations that sound genuine and are at the same time quick-witted, brilliant and entertaining – a test that Daniel Guzmán passes with flying colours. The cast members also shine thanks to their charm, magnetism and spontaneity: mention must be made of the director’s own 90-year-old grandmother (Antonia Guzmán) and two smashing revelations of actors: Miguel Herrán and Antonio Bachiller.
These kids play Darío and Luismi, inseparable buddies who live on the same block in a working-class suburb. The former is impulsive, quixotic and a real go-getter, while the latter’s role is to be the sensible one, Sancho Panza, the one who keeps his feet on the ground... that is, until he lets himself get swept along by his bosom buddy. But the situation at home is not exactly idyllic for Darío, as his parents are constantly rowing in the wake of their divorce. Fleeing this hostile environment, the teenager will find a new family in the owner of a motorbike repair shop and in an old lady who goes around collecting furniture that people have thrown away.
Through this conflict, peppered with good-natured humour, Guzmán warns us about how adults can sometimes project their own problems onto their children, forgetting to give them space, admiration and attention. He does this with the narrative nimbleness that he has already shown off in the short film Sueños, with which he won the Goya Award in 2004, and although we have seen all those small-time delinquent films from the 1970s, his movie is not nearly as contemptible; rather, it couples much better with Barrio by Fernando León de Aranoa: friendly, beautiful, well-meaning and likeable, it manages to avoid oozing the anger of Guzmán’s most serious opponent in this year’s Málaga short list – his professional colleague Zoe Berriatúa, with Los héroes del mal.
(Translated from Spanish)