The Kids From the Port: Moscow Review

A worthy addition to the roster of challenging but rewarding Spanish arthouse films making an international mark.

Three Spanish kids wander the streets in search of meaning in Alberto Morais’ follow-up to his 2011 Moscow Festival winner "The Waves."

A studied, melancholic and quietly political take on childhood alienation, The Kids from the Port extends a Spanish tradition of childhood-based arthouse cinema that stretches back as far as Victor Erice’s masterpiece The Spirit of the Beehive. Stylistically similar to The Waves in its attentive slowness and its wariness of anything conventional, Kids likewise recounts a journey into the past in search of meaning. If its lengthy silences resonate less than those in Waves, it’s because its backstory is less rich, but there’s still enough that’s memorable here to justify screenings at politically-inclined festivals.

Gangling teen Miguel (first-timer Omar Krim) is a school dropout who plays waste ground soccer with his friends Lola (Blanca Bautista) and Guillermo (Mikel Sarasa) through what feel like lengthy, pointless afternoons in the port area of Valencia. Miguel lives with his mother (Pepa Juan): their exchange “What are you doing?” “Nothing” could stand as a motto for the entire film. Miguel’s grandfather (Jose Luis De Madariaga) also lives with them, but his regular attempts to escape mean that his room is kept locked.

When his grandfather tells Miguel that an old soldier friend has died and that he wants to take his old army jacket to him, Miguel puts on the jacket and the trio of kids set off to the cemetery on foot. The rest of the movie shows their largely silent journey, which they are undertaking without knowing why. It involves several minor key episodes including Miguel getting lost and the kids being thrown off a bus for not having enough money: although later, perhaps inconsistently, we do see them riding public transport.

Kids, in which significantly no character ever smiles, is more about its ideas than its drama. These ideas, made extremely unemphatically, are bleak, and include the neglect of children by their families and by society in general, the importance of the past for an understanding of the present, and the difficulty of finding meaning in a world which seems concerned to prevent access to it.

Morais’ coolly detached, earnest treatment -- at times, a little old-fashioned passion wouldn’t go amiss -- often has the kids wandering in and out of frame in mid and long-shot, part of the ignored environment. Bet Rourich’s photography, aided by some wonderful natural light, is careful to frame everything to sometimes memorable perfection -- this is a film of lengthy, static sequences. But there are also plenty of significant details to enjoy for the sharp-eyed observer, such as the plastic toy soldiers which Miguel briefly plays with in a store, metaphors of what the modern world has reduced Spain’s historical struggles to.

Xema Fuertes’ plucked strings score is appropriately minimalist and downbeat. But it’s the sad gaze of the abandoned child Miguel that lingers longest in the mind’s eye, a gaze that’s always looking for something without ever finding it.

Venue: Cine Berlanga, Madrid
Production companies: Olivo Films, Primero Izquierda Films
Cast: Omar Krim, Blanca Bautista, Mikel Sarasa, Jose Luis De Madariaga, Ricardo Herrero, Pepa Juan
Director, screenwriter: Alberto Morais

Producers: Rogelio De La Fuente, Jose Garrido, Veronica García, Jose Maria Lara, Alberto Morais
Director of photography: Bet Rourich
Production designer: Carlos Ramon
Music: Xema Fuertes
Costume Designer: Patricia Guerrero
Editor: Manel Barriere
No rating, 78 minutes

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