(Thieves, Spain - 2007)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Juan Jose Ballesta, Maria Valverde, Patrick Bauchau, Maria Ballesteros
Genre: Crime/Drama/Romance
Director: Jaime Marques
Screenplay: Jaime Marques & Juan Ibanez from Enrique Lopez Lavigne's story
Cinematography: David Azcano
Composer: Federico Jusid

Separated from his pickpocket mother upon her arrest when he was just a wee lad, the now teenage thief Alex (Juan Jose Ballesta) is on his own after being released from a foster home. Immediately suspected of stealing due to being a kid off the streets working for a respectable hair salon, even though it’s true Alex gives up on the idea of ever transcending his low class and heritage, his mother was a Romanian gypsy, and returns to fending for himself the only way he ever truly learned how. He’s a character without a present or a future, hinging all his hopes on reconnecting with his mother Ana (María Ballesteros) if for no other reason than she’s not only the best, but in fact the only suitable partner he’s ever had.

All other partnerships are attractive young women selected with an aim to recreate the glory of his lost youth, and Alex can always find someone capable of stealing as he asserts it’s more about courage than skill. However, class is always a barrier as just about anyone else his age, for instance his new partner Sara (Maria Valverde), attends school and has a family. Thus, rather than acting out of necessity they are invariably rebellious middle-class dabblers who are temporarily fascinated with the dangerous life, until it becomes too risky.

Owing a good deal to the crown jewel of the subgenre, Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket, even if thematically more than stylistically, Jaime Marques melancholic mood piece on is a poetic work that thrives on melding the stylish with the minimalist. David Azcano’s cinematography and Ivan Aledo’s editing can be flashing with handheld, tracking shots, and slow motion, generally a choreographed mix of lengthy motion shots and montage of brief close-ups. However, it’s also a quiet film with incidental dialogue. Unlike most movies, scenes aren’t scored simply because there’s no dialogue. Marques is confident enough in his visual storytelling to allow the film to not only exist with very little dialogue, but also to have Federico Jusid’s score fade in an out rather than dictate the tone of these scenes.

Alex is a quite onlooker, lurking in the background with his vulture eyes honing in on what he’s after. We pick up bits and pieces of his life through observing his daily routine, perhaps initially making an inaccurate guess on his interest in Sara, the teenage girl he saves from getting caught shoplifting then stalks, but mystery and enigma remain a strength of the film. Thieves is a patient love story with Alex being persistent but also having far more guts in their professional capacity as a mentor who throws Sara right into action than in their relationship. The pallid blue gray color palette is suitable to the film noir bend of this tale that focuses on a character destined to never have anything. Getting back to Bresson, this is really a story of redemption, and Alex can only achieve it through relinquishing his love while she still has a chance for the life he can never have.

Thieves may not be the most original or fully realized movie, but Jaime Marques directorial debut is certainly a showcase for promising young talent. In addition to Marques, who has accomplished something simply in giving me a reason to watch something from the Spanish film industry, which anymore seems to only produce soap operas, idiotic comedies, and lame derivative thrillers, the film features two promising young performers. Improving from earlier roles in films such as El Bola & Carol’s Journey, Juan Jose Ballesta displays a discreet intensity in carrying the film with his detached and nonchalant performance. Maria Valverde makes an excellent counterpart, as together they easily succeed in the dubious accomplishment of making the audience forget all the shady aspects of their pilfering. Of course, it always helps to have some experienced talent, such as veteran Patrick Bauchau who easily pulls off the role of the evil controlling fence who endangers Alex in exchange for information on the whereabouts of his mother.



* Copyright 2008 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *