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GOCRITIC! Animest 2023

GoCritic! Review: Tender Metalheads


- The Spanish feature-length animation directed by Joan Francesc Tomàs Monfort and Carlos Pérez-Reche was the big winner at the 18th edition of Animest in Bucharest

GoCritic! Review: Tender Metalheads
Tender Metalheads by Joan Francesc Tomàs Monfort and Carlos Pérez-Reche

Tender Metalheads, the winner of the ​​Best Feature Film award, as well as the Teen Jury Award, at the 18th edition of the Animest Bucharest International Film Festival, is a minimalist yet wholesome Spanish feature that proves that less is more.

Directed by Joan Francesc Tomàs Monfort and Carlos Pérez-Reche, and based on a comic by Juanjo Sáez who also served as the artistic director and producer on the film (which was preceded by a TV series in 2018), Tender Metalheads has all the right ingredients for a moving viewing experience: a heartfelt story with interesting characters whose faces don’t even need to be very detailed in the simple animation style, and a sense of humour.

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Sometimes it may seem like the big tragedies and comedies are the ones about romantic love, but friendship can arguably be considered just as important and life-changing. Especially if you are a teenager in a working-class neighbourhood in 1991 Barcelona, like our main characters.

Tender Metalheads is a story about friendship; the friendship that through a school year develops between Juanjo, an asthmatic boy who has to retake a year and Miquel, a stuttering boy who has a complicated situation at home. They end up sitting together in class and they connect over music.

Less is more: that seems to be the philosophy behind the animation by Victor Rago. It is simple and with little use of colour, stripping the characters of anything non-essential, even facial features. It may sound difficult to empathise and relate to characters whose countenance we don’t see, but it works.

Not only is it the characters; it’s the movement as well. As Rago explained at the Q&A after the screening at Animest, they made a virtue of necessity. They found a way to express motion with as few frames as possible –which translates to fewer drawings which, in turn, translates to less production money. With inspiration drawn from the comic book world, and more specifically from Sáez’s graphic novel that was the grounds for the film, they employ aesthetics that remind us of the printed page.

There is much more behind this seemingly simple story of two kids who are 15 in the 90s, and base their friendship on the CD-dealing of their new metal music discoveries; who have an enthusiastic teacher that plays Truffaut films for them, and families who are too absorbing or not present enough.

The film also tackles addiction, search for identity, violence, trying to escape one’s family and the inability to do so. As Miquel disguises the messy family drama as worldliness (“we don’t celebrate Christmas, it is an anachronic concept”), Juanjo’s admiration towards him grows even more, unaware of what’s going on behind his home’s doors – which Miquel won’t open for him.

But these difficult topics are packed into an enjoyable and humorous form, and humour is the very frame of the storytelling, not just an addition. After all, is there anything that defines teenage years better than dressing up as a metalhead just to find out that it is not a costume? “It is my identity”, Miquel discovers and tells Juanjo.

It is "totems" like this, to quote a very apt term used in the film, that can help us fight so that rough circumstances don’t take away our tenderness and humanity. Sometimes, it takes a lifetime. Other times, a school year.

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