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Review: Sky High

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- Daniel Calparsoro offers up a patchy attempt to resurrect the spirit of the quinqui movement that took Spanish cinema by storm in the 1970s and 1980s

Review: Sky High

You may remember Sky High [+see also:
trailer
interview: Daniel Calparsoro
film profile
]
, the latest feature from Daniel Calparsoro, from its premiere at this year’s Malaga International Film Festival and subsequent outing in Rome. Inspired by stories skimmed from the media, the screenplay has been liberally fictionalised by Jorge Guerricaechevarría, a regular sidekick of other filmmakers in the high-octane club, including Daniel Monzón (El niño [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Daniel Monzón
film profile
]
) and Álex de la Iglesia (800 Bullets).

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Shot in Madrid, Valencia and Ibiza, the film’s 120-minute running time packs in everything from heart-stopping action to romance, although its overriding theme is ambition: the ambition fuelling Ángel, who will stop at nothing and pay any price to scale the social ladder and join the ranks of a capitalist elite from which he feels excluded. This young upstart is played by Miguel Herrán (discovered by Daniel Guzmán in Nothing in Return [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Daniel Guzmán
film profile
]
), supported by an all-in Carolina Yuste (winner of the Goya for Best Supporting Actress for her turn in Carmen & Lola [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Arantxa Echevarría
film profile
]
), with Luis Tosar in a minor role.

An aerial shot taken from one of the Cuatro Torres in northern Madrid has us looking down on a swarm of ant-like passers-by, symbolising our protagonists longing to elevate his social standing. From his home in the far-flung outskirts of the city, the distance to those gleaming skyscrapers seems insurmountable. This run-down suburb is a hotbed of violence, scheming, criminal masterminding and car pimping, home to a rough-and-ready wannabe mafia. In this respect, at least, Calparsoro’s film dovetails thematically with the quinqui aesthetic of flares, frenzy and trigger-happy violence, peopled with low-lives ready to prostitute themselves for a bit of cash, created by trailblazing filmmakers like Eloy de la Iglesia and José Antonio de la Loma in the 1970s and 1980s, and taken up by Carlos Saura in Deprisa, deprisa.

But this is also where Calparsoro starts to lose his footing, as he struggles to transpose a moment that was so unique, so of its time, to a modern-day setting. Sky High lacks the bubbling rage, the guts and the authenticity of those chronicles of disillusioned youth, no matter how many rappers, graffiti artists and assorted 21st-century creatives it shoehorns onto the cast. Spain is not the same place as it was back then, and the seamless execution — redolent of studio blockbusters like the Fast & Furious saga — fails to transmit the grit, sweat and punch of the directors to whom it affects to pay tribute.

To be fair, there are moments where Sky High could almost be the work of a Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, especially) or a Brian de Palma at his peak (Scarface); where it succeeds is in the realism of its portrayal of slickly produced “trash culture” and the aggressive, tough-talking misogyny of the night-time economy in Madrid’s post-industrial fringe. The film’s core message, about the dangers of unbridled ambition and how it razes all in its path, even love, elevates it to something that’s ultimately better than its nervy action sequences, throbbing to the incessant beat of rap’n’trap and electronica, would suggest.

Sky High was produced by Vaca Films in association with RTVE, Movistar +, Telemadrid, Canal + and Netflix, with support from the ICAA and Programa Media. It is due to hit cinema screens in Spain on Friday 18 December, distributed by Universal Pictures International Spain. French agency Playtime is handling international sales.

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