With his 2014 film Hidden Away, Spanish writer-director Mikel Rueda tapped into the tentativeness and isolation that gay teenagers routinely experience. The fact that this particular one has a Spanish boy enthralled by a Moroccan boy seems almost incidental - it's a story that most LGBT teens can relate to. TLA Releasing's DVD edition brings a bit more exposure to this quiet, observant drama.
Given a more accurate title of A Escondidas (Secretly) for its Spanish release, Hidden Away follows the story of introverted teens Ibrahim (Adil Doukouh) and Rafa (Germán Alcarazu). Newly arrived in Spain from his home country of Morocco, Ibra lives in an urban hovel with several other immigrants who scrape up some extra cash by selling imported weed to the locals. Besides dealing with discrimination, Ibra and his fellow emigrés live under constant threat that they may be deported at a moment's notice. Adding to Ibra's situation is the fact that he's gay and has no one else to confide in - until he meets Rafa at a local nightclub. Living with a busy single mother, Rafa feels adrift from his straight classmates at school. After getting to know Ibra in a casual setting, he feels a kinship. Although the handsome, introverted Ibra doesn't feel the same curiosity towards Rafa, eventually he starts to open up to the other boy. Against the macho posturing and casual racism of his classmates, Rafa finds ways to see Ibra whenever possible, eventually following him to a community shelter for immigrants awaiting citizenship. The Spanish authorities clamp down on attempting to deport Ibra, despite his being underaged and lacking a guardian in Morocco to take care of him. While the two boys' connection has developed into something more than a friendship, it becomes a top priority for Rafa to shield Ibra from the encroaching authorities.
Hidden Away treads the same familiar ground as films like the made-for-television Swedish production Boys, chronicling a first attraction with a great deal of sympathy toward its lead characters. Like Boys, this movie benefits from the natural performances of the lead actors. Doukouh and Alcarazu are both natural, unaffected actors who seem to blend into their roles. That applies to the supporting players as well, such as Joseba Ugalde as the one friend of Rafa's who sticks by him despite not understanding why he'd be attracted to Ibra. Rafa and Ugalde's Guille have an interesting dynamic which isn't explored often enough in LGBT youth films - it's also explored on a smaller scale with Ibra and Youssef (Moussa Echarif), the ringleader in the Moroccan drug operation that Ibra participates in.
Despite Hidden Away's solid performances and intriguing story, the movie on the whole left me wanting. Director Mikel Ruela shuffles around the plot's chronology for no special reason, with isolated scenes taking place at different points in the story spliced in at various moments for a random, non-linear effect. It's a confusing tactic which contributes nothing at all to the story. He also makes an overly frequent use of montages backed by pop music (the soundtrack is pretty nice), a device which moves the story along but gets repetitive. This is a quiet, contemplative story that depends on realism to make it work - why all the montages? The intended teenage audience may find their attentions wandering at the many scenes with Rafa and Ibra by themselves, awkwardly walking along and talking. Although they exemplify what typically happens in this sweet, chaste film, I found those scenes quite endearing.
TLA Releasing DVD edition of Hidden Away presents the film in its original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. Surprisingly, the movie was filmed on celluloid, giving this disc presentation a vague retro-'90s feel. The letterboxed picture is grainy and low on contrast, with some occurrences of white specks in the print. Color and skin tones are kept nice and understated. The cinema verite feel of the photography lacked in depth (especially night scenes), resulting in a blah-looking transfer for this thoroughly average-looking disc.
The Spanish and Arabic-language soundtrack is included in a Dolby Digital Stereo mix. The musical components of this track are particularly well-mixed in with the dialogue, with neither element overpowering the other. Age and distortion don't figure too much in this understated track. The disc defaults to the Spanish/Arabic soundtrack with optional English-language subtitles.
The sole extras are a Theatrical Trailer for this film and a handful of Previews for other TLA Releasing products.
The Spanish feature Hidden Away is yet another coming-out story involving a pair of gay teenagers, given some distinction with one of the main characters being a Moroccan immigrant facing two kinds of discrimination. It's a nicely made effort, subtly and realistically portrayed if somewhat tentative in its aims. Those who enjoy sympathetically done foreign-language gay films ought to give this one a shot. Rent It.