'The Nobodies' ('Los Nadie'): Film Review

Courtesy of SIC
Maria Angélica Puerta and Felipe Alzate in Juan Sebastián Mesa’s 'The Nobodies.'
Monochrome in more ways than one.

Juan Sebastián Mesa's first feature and Venice Critics' Week winner chronicles a couple of days in the lives of some rudderless youngsters in Medellin, Colombia.

A motley crew of tattooed and intentionally unkempt Medellin millennials literally juggles for money at traffic lights but also has to metaphorically try and balance their needs and desires in a difficult city in rookie director Juan Sebastián Mesa’s moody, free-floating drama The Nobodies (Los Nadie). Shot in atmospheric black-and-white, which immediately ups the project’s punk factor — an impression that’s only reinforced by the music from local rock band O.D.I.O. — this sketch of the contemporary lives of a quintet of friends living in one of the continent’s vast urban sprawls is plenty hip and cool but also lacks any clear direction or overarching narrative.

This Audience Award winner at the Venice Critics’ Week should especially appeal to youth- and Latin America-oriented festivals before segueing to modest theatrical numbers in the Hispanosphere.

Dreadlocked Camilo (Diego Perez Ceferino), also known as “la rata” or “the rat,” is told off by his mother because he doesn’t respect the curfew of his rough neighborhood and she’s afraid he’ll end up in the hands of the local gangs and/or a drug addict, like his father. Not in the least afraid of anyone, he thinks nothing of getting a tattoo done by someone who almost killed him a few days earlier. His best friend, Mechas (Esteban Alcarez), grew up on the streets, is similarly fearless and also dreams of leaving.

The mother of the tattooed Ana (Maria Angélica Puerta), still a minor, left for the U.S. several years ago and the girl now lives with her aunt and cousin, who are very religious and expect Ana to participate in their prayer circles. Ana’s sort-of boyfriend is El Pipa (Felipe Alzate), a tattoo artist and singer who’s the oldest and most experienced of the group and whose lyrics are of the angry, anti-everything type. Ana’s friend, the peroxided Manu (Maria Camila Castrillón), goes to university and she’s close to her middle-class mom, though neither her mother nor herself can live up to the expectations of Ana’s stepdad.

This eclectic but at the same time stereotypical group of youngsters — covered in earrings, dreadlocks, tattoos and piercing and armed with unicycles and juggling balls — tries to make money on the streets with their tricks and hangs out together in various pairings as they discuss everything and nothing. A sketchy group portrait thus emerges of the lower- and lower-middle class of Medellin, a city that seems to be largely indifferent to them as individuals and almost-adults yet simultaneously provides them with an endless playground as well as many potential dangers. (Los Nadie flirts with the possibly dangerous sides of the city several times but finally doesn’t seem to take it very seriously. In doing so, it plays with audience expectations in ways that not everyone will be able to appreciate.)

Whether making music or attending concerts, driving around on a rickety scooter or getting into arguments with their parents, the youngsters’ behavior is recognizable for everyone who’s been young just about anywhere in the world. But 27-year-old Mesa manages to at least partially anchor the film’s loose-limbed structure by ensuring that many of the details about Medellin at least give his story a real sense of place (like when two of the protagonists hear some loud bangs and wonder whether they’re hearing gunshots or fireworks before making a run for it).

David Correa Franco’s monochrome cinematography and O.D.I.O.’s music imbue the film with a whisked, youthful anger that’s entirely in keeping with the characters that populate the film. There’s no question that this is an affectionate portrait of a generation that doesn’t know what to do with itself though the biggest revelation of The Nobodies turns out to be no revelation at all, as, for the most part, these marginalized or largely invisible people seem to think and act just like kids everywhere.

Production companies: Monociclo Cine
Cast: Maria Angélica Puerta, Maria Camila Castrillón, Diego Perez Ceferino, Esteban Alcaráz, Felipe Alzate
Writer-director: Juan Sebastián Mesa
Producers: Alexander Arbelaez, José Manuel Duque
Director of photography: David Correa Franco
Production designer: Mary Luz Cardona
Costume designer: Maria Camila Castrillón
Editor: Isabel Otálvaro
Music: O.D.I.O.
Sales: Alpha Violet

In Spanish

No rating, 84 minutes