Two young men from different cultures fall gently in love in the racist and homophobic environment of a northern Spanish city.
This tender and muted film from Spain, both written and directed by Mikel Rueda, is about a couple of 15 year old youths falling in love.
The film is set in the northern Spanish town of Bliboa where Ibrahim (Adil Koukouh) has more or less settled after fleeing Morocco; at the start of the film he’s living in a hostel, studying and surviving by his wits and street smarts. Ibra has caught the eye of Rafa (German Alcarazu), a local school boy increasingly alienated from his set of posturing and machismo friends. Rafa knows he’s different and is unable to talk to anyone about this, not even his best friend, Guille (Joseba Ulgade), who himself may or may not be secretly in love with Rafa (the story touches on this possibility without exploring it).
Rafa and Ibra slowly become close; in lingering close-ups and scenes of the pair at the fairgrounds, at a bowling alley, on the beach. the film focuses on their emotional bond rather than the sexual tension between them. Their affection for each other is beautifully portrayed, although, especially in the fairground scene, the direction borders on sentimentality, and there are too many moments where the boys rough and tumble and horseplay: you watch these scenes expecting things to become sexual; they come close at one point but are interrupted by the racist homophobe Javi (Eder Pastor), the ‘leader of the pack’. The omission of scenes of overt sensuality between the boys isn't a problem for the story, but it seems too pointed somehow, as though the movie is deliberately trying not to offend a certain conservative audience.
The film keeps the two leads innocent and makes much of the contrast between the genuine feelings Rafi and Ibra develop for each other and the competing, sexist, boorish behaviour of the mainstream boys. The story is shot through with a racist message – it’s clear that the movie has its points to make about the Arab migrant experience in Europe. Ibra has entered Spain illegally and could be deported at any time, so you sadly guess that their relationship is without a future Rafi doesn’t get to find out why Ibra left Morocco and neither do we, there's only one tiny reference to his backstory in a conversation with Rafi towards the end of the film where he says he’s reluctant to reflect on his journey because it’s too painful.
Hidden Away is a lovely film, but ever so slightly spoilt by being too self-consciously ‘indie’ – intense close-ups of inanimate, unloved objects, bleak-looking city-scapes, the soft blue tint to so many of the scenes, handheld camera work and a particular style of musical score accompanying gentle moments of togetherness: all are devices that are starting to feel familiar by now; there’s almost a formulaic approach to Hidden Away. It takes a minimalist approach to dialogue, the boys say very little to each other, instead we get long lingering shots of their faces and are invited, in a heavy-handed way, to reflect on the delicacy of their feelings. The film is bookended with the view of a road as seen from the underside of a vehicle, creating a circular effect and hinting at how Ibra made his journey to Spain.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Hidden Away (A Escondidas)
Written and directed by Mikuel Rudeda
Spain, 2014, 88 mins
Spanish Film Festival
Sydney: 21 April – 10 May
Melbourne: 22 April – 10 May
Brisbane: 29 April – 13 May
Canberra: 23 April – 6 May
Adelaide: 6-20 May
Perth: 23 April – 6 May
Byron Bay: 30 April – 7 May
Hobart: 7-13 May
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