A sober look at the loss of innocence in an unnamed Mexican village, Edgar Nito Arrache’s debut The Gasoline Thieves follows the tragic result of a schoolgirl’s coyness toward the boy who wants to woo her. At the risk of being too lighthearted about a convincingly grim tale whose English title acknowledges a debt to Italian neorealism, the picture boils down to a single message directed at young dudes: If a girl wants presents before she’ll hold your hand, find someone else to swoon over.
Sweet-faced newcomer Eduardo Banda plays Lalo, who is unwittingly part of criminal network even when we meet him: An enterprising kid who earns a few pesos for his family by ferrying jugs of gasoline from a dealer to the farmers who need them, he doesn’t know that Don Gil (Fernando Becerril), the old man he buys from, gets his product illegally. Responding to ever-rising gas prices, local gangsters sneak into fields and tap pipelines, selling barrels of gas at bargain rates. As we see in a tense opening sequence, these men think nothing of killing those who’d interrupt their operation.
At school, Lalo pines innocently for Ana (Regina Reynoso). Her smiles encourage him, but when the teen approaches her to haltingly ask to be her boyfriend, she humiliates him: She and two girlfriends suggest he needs to watch some movies and telenovelas to learn how to romance a lady. It’s strongly hinted that gifts — iPhones, even — are an essential ingredient. Then the girls walk off to talk to older guys with motorcycles, where Ana is less standoffish about the advances of Rulo (Pedro Joaquin), who we know is part of that gas-stealing crew.
Hard up for cash, Lalo takes a hint from Gil and approaches Rulo’s gang for a job. Rulo and the older Mariano (Pascario Lopez) take the kid on. Over his single mom’s objections, Lalo not only starts stealing gas with these men, but becomes their social companion, having what appear to be his first encounters with booze, raunchy talk and female nudity. (Interestingly, Arrache never hints at the kind of friendships Lalo might have had before Ana asked for an Apple and Eden was spoiled.)
Arrache holds our disapproval and fear at bay for a short while, letting us enjoy watching Lalo grow bolder in life and with Ana. But more than one shoe is waiting to drop here — not just a rivalry between Lalo and Rulo, but a more familiar cops-and-robbers drama that the film gives just enough attention to make real. Arrache’s light touch with these weighty elements is surely responsible for the best new narrative director award he was given by the Tribeca Film Festival’s jury, and The Gasoline Thieves will likely leave many on the fest circuit eager to see his next film.
Production company: Nobody
Cast: Eduardo Banda, Regina Reynoso, Fernando Becerril, Pascacio Lopez, Pedro Joaquin, Leonardo Alonso
Director: Edgar Nito Arrache
Screenwriters: Alfredo Mendoza, Edgary Nito Arrache
Producers: Victor Leycegui, Annick Mahnert, Joshua Sobel
Executive producers: Bob Portal, Inderpal Singh, Sonia Lowe
Director of photography: Juan Pablo Ramirez
Production designer: Omar Conde
Costume designer: Dalia Rosales
Editor: Sam Baixauli
Composer: Carlo Ayhllon
Casting director: Ulises Perez Mancilla
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (International Narrative Competition)
Sales: Timo Suomi, AMP International