Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Kid (orig. El Niño) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity.com/es listing*
SensaCine.com listing*

ACCIONCine.es (M.J. Payán) review*
CineParaLeer.com (M.A. Huerta Floriano) review*
FotoGramas.es (J. Pons) review*

The Kid (orig. El Niño) [2014]  [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Daniel Monzón [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]* along with Jorge Guerricaechevarría  [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) is a critically acclaimed / multiple Goya (Spanish) / Gaudi (Catalan) Award-winning crime drama from Spain that played recently at the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.  Though as of the writing of this article, not yet available for purchase/streaming in the United States, it is available in Europe through the Amazon Instant Video streaming service in the U.K.

The film is set at the southern tip of Spain / Iberian Peninsula at the Strait of Gibraltar (separating Europe from Africa by a span of only 10 miles) where three sovereign jurisdictions come into close contact -- Spain and its port of Algeciras, the U.K. at Gibraltar and then across the strait, Morocco, with a Spanish Gibraltar-like possession of Ceuta on the Moroccan (African) side of the strait as well.

That SO MANY political entities with VERY DIFFERENT OUTLOOKS regarding history, governance, law and even religion -- Spain historically über-Catholic and since the 1800s following a Napoleonic Code approach toward the Law, the UK since the Reformation famously historically Defender of the Protestant faith and following a much older (but IMHO more organic / flexible) Common Law approach to the Law and the Kingdom of Morocco historically Muslim and leaning necessarily toward a Islam influenced understanding of Law -- exist IN SUCH CLOSE PROXIMITY and AND AT THE POINT OF CLOSEST CONTACT BETWEEN TWO ENTIRE CONTINENTS / (ARGUABLY) CIVILIZATIONS makes the region absolutely IDEAL GROUND FOR TALES OF INTRIGUE AND SMUGGLING. 

Hence the historical / political backdrop to the film ... and, IMHO, the film generally does not disappoint.

The film really tells two perhaps even three stories that become increasingly intertwined as the film progresses:

The first involves a team of Spanish federal police officers -- Jesús (played by Luis Tosar [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*), Eva (played by Bárbara Lennie [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) and Sergio (played by Eduard Fernández [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*), based in the Spanish Port City of Algeciras tasked, already for over two years, to break-up a cocaine smuggling operation from Latin America that they find is actually being masterminded by a ring of Russian - Kosovar Albanian mafiosi.  They are frustrated because becomes is clear to them that the smugglers here are playing-off police / port officials at the two jurisdictions Gibraltar (U.K.) - Algeciras (Spain) against each other, fainting toward one port / jurisdiction and then delivering through the other.  And it appears that cooperation in anti-smuggling operations between the two jurisdictions is poor to nil, compromised certainly by lingering mutual suspicion (even though both the U.K. and Spain are in the E.U.), and then, when one's talking about drug smuggling ... certainly money. 

The second story involves two twenty something Spanish "good ole boy" buddies -- Niño (played by Jesús Castro [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) and Compi (played by Jesús Carroza [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) who get it into their heads that it'd be "really cool" to buy a "beach side bar" out there on the Southwestern tip of Spain.  Niño's (lit. "the kid") even scouted out a place on a still presently secluded beach some miles outside of town.  All they need is 250K Euro for a down-payment and it's theirs.

But how to get 250K?  Well Niño's something of a daredevil, having driven his jet-ski recently CLEAR ACROSS THE STRAIT to Morocco thinking it "way cool" to pick-up a small rock (note that Gibraltar is nicknamed "The Rock") "a small piece of Africa" and bring it back with him to show-off to friends back in Spain.  Niño also "has a connection" with Halil (played magnificently by Saed Chatiby [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) a late-teen/early 20-something Moroccan immigrant working in a local "Felafel Stand" AND HE can "hook them up" with his uncle Rachid (played by Moussa Maaskri [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) who's the local "hashish smuggling" king-pin.  Honestly, "what could go wrong with this plan? :-) Volunteer to make a few runs (Niño initially thinking JUST USING HIS JET SKI) and they'd be "in like Flynn" "basking in the glory" of owning A GREAT BEACH SIDE BAR "just outside of town" with "all the babes there for their picking."  (That even Compi actually is already living with a long-time girlfriend (played by Inma Perez [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) doesn't seem to detract from Niño's dream ...).

Well Halil does introduce Niño and Compi to his uncle Rachid.  Halil, who knows better, is scared.  Rachid sees two morons, eyes-rolling even explaining to Niño that jet skis would be ridiculously small potatoes for his operation.  He uses speedboats which race across the strait at times when, coordinated with spotters, the smugglers know that Spanish police/customs helicopters are on the ground, refueling.

Yet Rachid is impressed with Niño's 20-something bravado.  So he decides to give Niño, Campi "a try" at running a shipment with one of his (Rachid's) speedboat one night.  Niño's kinda crestfallen / pissed off when he finds that "the shipment" that he was tasked to deliver turned out to be packages of _sand_ rather than hashish but Halil calms him down reminding him that his uncle wanted to make sure that he and Compi were up to the task (of running a shipment across the Strait) before he'd entrust them with a cargo worth the trouble.

Niño and Compi "pass" (more or less) this test and so become "runners" for in this Moroccan hash-smuggling operation (still actually considered "small time" / "not worth the trouble to bust" (unless they became really craven or stupid...) by Spanish police officials like the group led by Jesús described above.

This then involves Niño and Compi (as well as viewers of the film) into the third story playing-out in the film: that of the lives and challenges of Moroccans living on both sides of the Strait.

In the course of the film, Niño falls in love with Halil's sister Anina (played magnificently by Mariam Bachir [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) who wears a Muslim head-scarf in Morocco, is comfortable in shedding it once she's is in the Spanish possession Ceuta still on the African side of the Strait and proves ultimately capable, if reluctantly, of falling in love with and (parents take note) sleeping with Niño on a secluded beach on the Spanish side of the Strait.  She's the same person, though capable of adapting to three different sets of cultural mores.  And truth be told, it's clear that she DOESN'T particularly like the overly libertine mores of Spain today, where young women ARE EXPECTED TO GO TOPLESS or even NUDE on the beach and similarly EXPECTED TO HOP INTO BED when their boyfriends beckon.... Interesting, huh?  Indeed, when one thinks about it, the Islamic headscarf seems a lot less intrusive to women's dignity then the _expectations_ of toplessness and even full nudity on Europe's beaches today ...

Anyway it is ANINA who reminds Niño that a life of crime doesn't exactly have a future.  Yet Niño is Niño and ... "Niño has a dream..."  So much has ensue ...

The story that ensues becomes a very interesting / pointed story ... and on several levels.  Yes, clearly the continued "special status" of Gibraltar is shown as an irritant Spanish sensibilities as well as an impediment to law enforcement operations (how true that actually is, an American like me could only guess).  However, there's ALSO a rather interesting (and sympathetic) portrayal of the Moroccan community in Southern Spain and the possibility that it could teach contemporary Spaniards a thing or two about morality (and _not just_ sexual morality but ALSO with regard to entering into criminal activity).

In any case, it makes for a very interesting film, and a great film to show early in the course of this annual European Union Film Festival that's organized every year at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.  Good job folks!   Good job!

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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