SUNDANCE: The Cinema Hold Up

Insightful but slowly paced slice of life from Mexico City.

PARK CITY — A neo-realist caper film for today, "The Cinema Hold Up" tracks the lives of four disaffected adolescents in a gritty Mexico City neighborhood. With no direction to their days and nothing to fill their time except smoking pot and roaming the streets, four young friends hatch a pipe dream to rob the local multiplex. First time director Iria Gómez Concheiro, working with mostly non-professional actors, takes a very deliberate pace getting inside the daily rhythms of the kids, their familes and their community leading up to the heist. The film is probably too slow for a broad audience but for people familiar with places like this, it may be a postcard from home.

From the first long tracking shot of Negus (Gabino Rodriguez), the leader of the pack, walking through the graffiti-covered neighborhood, Concheiro’s strategy is to take her time to get to know these people — the texture, smell, and especially the sounds of their lives. The group includes the hotheaded Sapo (Juan Pablo de Santiago), the pretty boy Chale (Angel Sosa), and Chata (Paulina Avalos), ostensibly Negus’ girlfriend, but curiously their affection never becomes physical.

It’s almost as if these kids are biding their time waiting for an adulthood that promises very little. Concheiro is sympathetic to their problems. They’re not bad kids, they just have nothing to do. So they spend their time hanging out, getting stoned, and trying to get along with their families. Their one creative outlet is spray-painting large graffiti murals.

Out of their boredom comes the plan to rob the cinema. Each of them has their reasons: Negus wants to buy a new TV for his mother who basically ignores him while pampering his older wastrel brother; Chale wants to impress an older woman (Dolores Heredia) who flirts with him; Sapo, the one most likely to become a real criminal, wants to assert his manhood. Chata is like one of the guys but the least credible of the characters. It’s unclear why she would not only participate in the holdup, but become a key player.

Negus is the mastermind. He scopes out the location and draws up a detailed map of the location. After 90 minutes, the crawling pace comes alive with tension. Concheiro and her editors Francisco X. Rivera and Luciana Jauffred pull off a first-rate caper scene, cutting crisply from each character carrying out his or her job. As in any heist, a feel for the people is essential, but here the introduction and buildup have been so prolonged, the event loses some of its urgency. A bit more economy in the storytelling and some trimming from the 124-minute running time could help without damaging the characters.

Concheiro’s real accomplishment is showing that even after the robbery succeeds and the kids play out their fantasies, they are left pretty much in the same place they started — with nothing to do and nothing to look forward to. Concheiro has an undeniable eye and ear for what life is like here, captured by Alberto Anaya Adalid’s colorful cinematography, Leonardo Soqui Michelena’s buoyant music, and the sounds of the street. In the end, you can’t help but feel for these kids

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Production companies: Ciudad Cinema, Mil Nube Cinema
Cast: Gabino Rodríguez, Juan Pablo de Santiago, Angel Sosa, Paulina Avalos, Dolores Heredia, Juan Manuel Bernal, María Gelia, Susana Salazar
Director: Iria Gómez Concheiro
Screenwriter: Juan Pablo Gómez García, Iria Gómez Concheiro
Producer: Roberto Fiesco, Iria Gómez Concheiro
Executive producer: Ernesto Martinez
Director of photography: Alberto Anaya Adalid
Production designer: Diana Saade
Music: Leonardo Soqui Michelena
Costume designer: Marina Meza
Editor: Francisco X. Rivera, Luciana Jauffred
Sales: Shoreline Entertainment
No rating, 123 minutes