Ali: Film Review

Ali - H - 2013
Letra M Producciones
A perceptive but derivative teen-angst indie-flavored debut.

The debut from Seville director Paco R. Banos centers on a young heroine who struggles against her fear of falling in love.

Ali represents a fine addition to the roster of films that have come out of Seville in recent years, most recently with Albert Rodriguez’s acclaimed Group 7. Less willfully quirky and raucous than many of its Seville-based predecessors, Ali is a low-key, light-of-touch and perceptive study of a teenage girl’s struggles to tackle her own securities that sometimes feels more inspired by movies than by direct observation, but which nonetheless locks the viewer in by virtue of its earthy performances and generosity of spirit. As a convincing visiting card from debut director Paco R. Banos, Ali has the punch to make its mark on the festival circuit.

Ali (Nadia de Santiago) works in a supermarket alongside on/off boyfriend Julio (Adrian Lama): the opening scene between them nicely shows that in the bedroom, tough-girl teen attitudes will not get you very far. Having watched with horror her neurotic mom Alicia (Veronica Forque) stumble from unhappy relationship to unhappy relationship, Ali has assumed the role of nurturer to her own mother. So she’s angry to see Alicia take up with taxi driver Antonio (Luis Marco). But it’s clear that though she’s a late-teen rebel, smoking hard and selling cheap alcohol to the kids from the block, Ali’s disapproval of her mother’s hunt for love is driven in part by her awareness of her own emotional inhibitions.

As the entirely unnecessary voiceover at the start explains, Ali is afraid of two things: driving and falling in love. Somewhat schematically, but quite plausibly, the film charts her slow progress in both areas, progress mostly made by what she learns from her often stormy interactions with those around her.

The film thoughtlessly incorporates a few bad habits picked up from watching other movies, including a couple of too-predictable slow motion moments. Alienating urban settings, shopping malls and hospital waiting rooms among them, are likewise drawn from a thousand US indies, though one overhead shot of the vast, empty space used for Seville’s annual city fair is particularly striking.

One scene, featuring Ali and cohorts metal-detecting in an empty swimming pool, seems to be there only because of its quirkily comic appeal. But beneath all the the superficial derivativeness, there’s a real generosity of spirit about the film, a desire to probe beneath its bright surfaces, that more than makes up for it.

Torres keeps up the pace, attentively preventing his character study from sliding into the soporifically self-regarding: thankfully, at no point do we have to wait while Ali stares thoughtfully into space, since it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t have time for such navel-gazing. More familiar to Spanish viewers for her TV than for her film work, Nadia de Santiago manages to be both moody and winsome, doing good work as a young woman representing a generation of teens forced to grow up too soon, while Forque, whose work has often been annoyingly mannered, does full justice to the complexity of her relationship with her daughter.

The squint-inducing sunshine of the Spanish south dominates the film’s palettes, and seems to spill over into the vast, impersonal interiors of the supermarket, inventively filmed by Alvaro Gutierrez. The score by Julio de la Rosa, a stalwart of the Seville film scene, is attractive, off-kilter indie pop, and as such is right in line with the film’s overall mood.

Venue: Artistic Metropol, Madrid, May 20
Production companies: Letra M Producciones.
Cast: Nadia de Santiago, Veronica Forque, Adrian Lamana, Julian Villagran, Luis Marco.
Director: Paco R. Banos
Screenwriter: Rafael Cobos, Paco R. Banos
Alvaro Alonso
Director of photography: Alvaro Gutierrez
Production designer: Gigia Pellegrini
Music: Julio de la Rosa
Costume designer: Soledad Molina
Editor: Jose M. G. Moyano
Sales: Urban Films, Madrid
No rating, 86 minutes