15 Years and One Day: Film Review

15 Years and One Day Still - H 2013

15 Years and One Day Still - H 2013

Though well-intentioned and earnest, this attempt to X-ray the emotions of three generations ends up feeling unfocused and superficial.

Maribel Verdu stars in the family drama, which won multiple awards at Spain’s recent Malaga Film Festival.

Gracia Querejeta returns to her pet theme of strained parent/child relations in the undistinguished family drama 15 Years and One Day, a film full of emotions that are so repressed they never actually reach the audience. Querejeta's best work is characterized by its striking subtleties, but this time, the project falls victim to an over-literal, uncertain script that overreaches and underachieves. The film's Malaga awards, combined with Querejeta's reputation, should nonetheless ensure some offshore interest.

Orphan Jon (Aron Piper) lives with his wannabe-actress mother Margo (Maribel Verdu) -- theirs is the film's best-drawn relationship. After Jon poisons the neighbor's dog and is expelled from school, Margo sends the troubled teen to live with his grandfather Max (Tito Valverde), a strict ex-soldier, with the hope that Jon will learn a bit of discipline when Max introduces Jon to serious student Toni (Boris Cucalon).

However, Jon falls in with a local gang of ne'er-do-wells led by Nelson (Pau Poch). Following Nelson's death after a fight on the beach, which also leaves Jon in a coma, Max decides to find out whether the killer is Jon or Toni, a turn that feels like an attempt to inject some easy suspense.

Other characters hovering uncertainly around the main storyline include Aledo (Belen Lopez), a cop who fancies Max; Elsa (the lively, watchable Sofia Mohamed), Nelson's girlfriend; and Cati (Susi Sanchez), Max's ex-wife. Inevitably, with such a lengthy cast, too much feels shoehorned into a script whose labored attempts to explore every character in depth while touching on as many social issues as possible (education, gayness, immigration) leaves the movie feeling forced and schematized.

Maribel Verdu is best known to foreign audiences through Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien, Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and, more recently, Pablo Berger's silent Snow White. Hope builds in the early scenes, hinting at a Verdu tour de force, but then she abruptly disappears, returning only to deliver a speech to her comatose son in which too much, as in the rest of the film, is heavily underlined.

Tito Valverde's gruff, self-contained performance as the emotionally stunted Max, by some distance the film's most interesting character, is symptomatic of a project that feels too muted and buttoned-down, as though it's on guard against spilling over into straight melodrama. This is particularly true of Aron Piper; Jon's muttering sullenness might be authentic, but it comes across as flat.

The foul-mouthed, knife-wielding Nelson is equally unpleasant, but while we linger over Jon's fate, we wait in vain to hear any concern over this young man's death, from Elsa or anyone else. If this is to show that this family's emotional issues have made them selfish and introspective, then that’s a scripting masterstroke. If it isn't, then it destroys any claim the film may have to emotional sensitivity.

15 Years and One Day is dedicated to the director’s father, the great film producer Elias Querejeta, who died on June 9.

Venue: Cine Princesa, Madrid, June 19
Production companies: Tornasol Films, Castafiore Films
Cast: Tito Valverde, Maribel Verdu, Aron Piper, Belen Lopez, Susi Sanchez, Boris Cucalon, Pau Poch, Sfia Mohamed
Director: Gracia Querejeta
Screenwriter: Gracia Querejeta, Antonio Santos Mercero
Producers: Gerardo Herrero, Mariela Besuievsky
Director of photography: Juan Carlos Gomez
Production designer: Laura Musso, Josean Gomez
Music: Pablo Salinas
Costume designer: Maiki Marin
Editor: Nacho Ruiz Capillas

No rating, 100 minutes