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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Barrio
Barrio
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // Unrated // July 29, 2008
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Justine Cogan | posted August 4, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

I'm hoping Lions Gate's release of Fernando Leon's 1998 film, Barrio, means that US audiences will finally get to know the work of this talented Spanish filmmaker whose films are inexplicably hard to find stateside.

Often imbued with social commentary, Leon's films have won him the moniker "the Ken Loach of Spain". But his work is also funny and absurd and, above all, deeply invested in character. Even when his characters are behaving badly -- being selfish, short-sighted or just plain stupid - he never sells them out for a laugh or forces them into ideological postures to make a point. He treats his characters with affection, which, frankly, makes it easy for us to like them, too. In Barrio, winner of the Goya (Spain's Oscar) for Best Director and Best Screenplay, we get a brilliant example of this work.

A coming-of-age story about three 15-year-olds stuck in the oppressive heat of Madrid in August, Barrio is also, as the title suggests, about place. The place here is one of urban poverty, a place where childhood hopes end, a place outside the big city, outside the pleasure that money and comfort and healthy families provide. It's, really, about a place these characters may never leave. But it's also about that temporal place between childhood and adulthood. And this film paints that adolescent awkwardness with hilarious realism.

High school friends Rai, Javi and Manu spend their summer afternoons gawking at Dominican nannies in dusty plazas, watching gypsy bands perform for women who toss coins from their balconies, and gazing at stuff they can't afford through windows of shops that are closed for summer anyway. None of them has any money and they're all bearing the weight of complicated home lives. The teens alternate between jabbing at each other over real-world problems ("it's not his fault he's an orphan") and creating elaborate fantasies about what they'd do if they had money. They dream a lot about going away, and even more about what kind of women they'd meet wherever they went. Their "understanding" of the ladies is a topic for constant debate and an ongoing source of laughs in the movie.

Rai is the most reckless of the pack...and also the biggest dreamer. When his family can't afford the yogurt he needs for a manufacturer's mail-in contest he's sure he'll win, he takes what he needs from the grocery store. He likes to play with his security-guard brother's gun and has hushed conversations with a strange man neither of his friends knows.

Manu lives with his unemployed father; his mother disappeared years ago and his older brother, who he idolizes, is apparently too busy at a high-powered job to come by for visits. He gets a job as a pizza delivery boy and, since he doesn't have the scooter the job requires, races to bus stops to try to deliver the goods before they get cold...something he never manages to pull off.

Javi's family is at the point of rupture. He and his sister suffer through tense family lunches and, at night, he wears a walkman to drown out his parents' yelling. He envies his deaf grandfather with whom he shares a bedroom.

Despite troubles at home, the boys mostly live a the hot summer like any other bored 15 year olds - teasing each other, talking about girls and getting into trouble. But as the summer wears on, the boys make small advances toward adulthood. They begin to see their family situations with mature clarity and understand that their economic situation won't be fixed quick through lotteries and schemes. Javi's father moves out. Manu discovers the truth about his brother. And Rai gets caught up in errands for a drug dealer.

Relentless as the Madrid sun is the pressing sense of the end of innocence. These boys won't see out the summer as children.

There's no awkward stretching in this coming-of-age film. Leon's soft touch guides the story into more and more harrowing territory without ever making us feel like it couldn't happen just that way.

In some ways, this is a very Spanish film - the sense of being impossibly far from the beach is something that chafes inhabitants of the capital. But it's also a universal story about discovering where the boundaries of childhood lie...and whether you want to cross them.

The DVD:

This is a bare-bones offering. Features are subtitles, full screen and Digital audio in Spanish.

Audio: This disc comes with Spanish Dolby Digital audio and the track is clean and isn't distorted. The translation is good, which says a lot because the teens speak in rapid-fire MadrileƱo slang.

Video: Visuals here are nice and clear. Night scenes have sufficient definition. Colors are true except during occasional over-saturated, hand-held camera interludes.

Extras: No extras to speak of, unfortunately.

Final Thoughts: I've always been puzzled about why Fernando Leon didn't enjoy the popularity in the US that other Spanish filmmakers do. This release should help change that. Highly Recommended


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