A coming-of-age story about three boys living in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Madrid Barrio (1998) arrives to US shores courtesy of LionsGate Films. Beautifully photographed, well acted, and mixing humor with drama to perfection pic goes a long way in capturing childhood life without paying attention to political correctness.
Barrio is a film about poverty, desire, success, and failure seen through the eyes of three 15-year old boys as they struggle to find their place in a world where anything is possible...as long as you pay for it.
Rai (Crispulo Cabezas) has started working with a local drug-dealer, Manu (Eloi Yebra) has secured a pizza delivery gig even though he does not own a scooter, while Javi (Timy Benito) has given up on his collapsing family. When they spend time together the three friends talk about the ladies - what they like, what they dislike, and what is the best way to "get" them.
But the more Manu, Rai, and Javi attempt to understand the world they live in the more they begin to realize what an enormous challenge it would be to have their dreams come true. Rai is captured by the police, Manu finally discovers the truth about his missing brother, while Javi suddenly becomes the man in the family after his father moves out.
Fernando León's Barrio is everything Larry Clark's Wassup Rockers (2005) should have been. It is tragic yet funny, disturbing yet entertaining, raw yet polished. It is a film about the transition from childhood to adulthood without the MTV-esque glitzy faux-reality which cable shows love to sell to wealthy suburbia. It is also a film with a strong social message cutting deep into Spanish clichés about family values and morality.
Similarly to the French Banlieue films Barrio relies on a suburban slang with an abundance of colorful expressions. Typically Spanish remarks about sex, class, and crime carry a much deeper meaning when heard through the comic-dramatic prism favored by Fernando León. Not surprisingly, the main characters are as controversial as they are likable.
The film's strongest asset is undoubtedly linked to the ability of the young actors to improvise without disturbing the overall very consistent tempo of the story. The nonchalance their actions exude is far more superior to the imitated street jargon witnessed in Wassup Rockers. Eventually, innocence is replaced with sobriety in a far more convincing manner than witnessed in Larry Clark's film.
Technically Barrio shines from start to finish. Fernando León s camera roams freely through the backstreets of the neighborhood where Manu, Rai, and Javi live. The dirty industrial buildings, scattered garbage, and colorful posters of exotic vacation destinations are all filmed in a manner enhancing the disillusionment the boys will undergo perfectly. On the other hand story remains charmingly intimate even when Manu, Rai, and Javi begin to face the consequences of their actions.
In 1999 Barrio won Goya Awards for Best Director (Fernando León), Best New Actress (Marieta Orozco), and Best Screenplay - Original (Fernando León).
How Does the DVD Look?
Since the beginning of the year the ongoing collaboration between Studio Canal and LionsGate Films has allowed US film aficionados to enjoy some truly spectacular packages of exceptionally high quality (The Alain Delon Collection, The Catherine Deneuve collection, Diva, etc). Unfortunately, Barrio isn't a cause for celebration. On the contrary, it is as disappointing of a release as I have seen from the US distrib in a very long time.
Pan /scanned to 1.33:1 from its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (the film was shot with a 35mm camera) Barrio looks worn out, weak, and fairly unimpressive. With plenty of digital noise and a good dose of edge-enhancement the presentation is more or less equivalent of a good VHS transfer. The color-scheme is notably inconsistent, detail significantly lacking, while digital noise adding quite a bit to deteriorate the overall look of the film. Of course, the major disappointment here is the severely cropped image which practically makes this disc unwatchable. Very, very disappointing effort from LionsGate films.
How Does the DVD Sound?
A Spanish DD track is what this disc offers. For the most part the audio treatment is acceptable but far and away from what a film of such magnitude deserves. The dialog is mostly clear and easy to follow while the English translation, generally speaking, accurate (as mentioned in the review there is plenty of jargon here). Aside from that I did not detect any major issues to report here.
Unfortunately, there aren't any supplemental materials on this disc.
As much as I like Barrio and as much as I wish to point your attention to Fernando León this rather recent release by LionsGate Films has me puzzled. I could only guess what film elements Studio Canal supplied to the R1 distrib but suffice to say what I have in my hands is not how you should see this film. By now it should presenting films in their original aspect ratio should be a must. Skip it.