Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Ladrones: Thieves, 2007. Ballesta and Valverde try just a little too hard to steal hearts.

Film directed by Jaime Marquez, (2007). Alex is lost in plain sight. After watching, as a young boy, as his

Maria Valverde

Maria Valverde

Juan Jose Ballesta

Juan Jose Ballesta

mother is arrested before his eyes on the metro, he grows up in an orphanage. Now grown, he finds himself out, alone, with nothing but his secret skill, and the dummy in his closet. This odd element in the story lets us know that this film is striving to be something more than its timeworn formulas might suggest. The dummy is a practice dummy for keeping his pickpocketing skills sharp, but we can see from the interaction of the youthful and handsome Alex (played by Juan José Ballesta) that it is much more than that to him, it is his only link to human affection. And the only way that he can engage it is to pick its pocket.

So he goes out on the streets to use his skills. It’s an original method to pick up a girl: pick her pocket. But when you’re this good looking, even the cheesiest pickup lines will work. And he knew how to choose: the only language that he knows is the language of deception, and like hearing your native language across a crowded room, he has found his kindred spirit. He cannot stop himself from stealing and now he has no reason to stop. He gets her hooked little by little. When he feels the pockets of the dummy in the closet, as she, in a cutaway scene, feels her face and body in the clothing she has stolen, their kinship becomes clear. The film is more a play of body language than of dialog, and for the most part, the skill and physicality of these two fine young actors makes it work. When their lips graze as he teaches her to lift wallets, perhaps that’s laying it on a bit thick, but no matter, it’s good theater, and entertaining choreography.

Much film time is spent on these shadow play scenes, and while they are beautifully directed, it seems that they may have come at the expense of some needed storytelling. Alex’s quest for his mother could use more space to spread out. It seems that the dummy is also a link to his mother’s affection, and his search for her is an underlying obsession that moves the story toward an inevitable tragedy. However, the integration of this with his Sara story is a bit awkward, so that when he does find his mother, we have to remind ourselves what the connection is. She is a prostitute, and the experience gives Alex hesitation, which happens to be the kiss of death for any pick-pocket’s career. When he realizes what is happening, Alex crudely snatches a woman’s purse to fill his need, but he gets no high from this, and he goes on a self destructive binge. The plot points are a bit too formulaic to be effective, but here Ballesta saves the day, giving his character just enough expressiveness to make it real.

The sequences are dreamlike, the music smooth and ethereal, giving this moody film a feeling of narcotic tragedy. The actions play out at night or in darkened interiors, as though we are seeing vampires, and indeed when Alex finally does leave traces of blood we finally see his humanity. He breaks into Sara’s house and when he enters her bedroom there is no need for words, the seduction and the violation are one.

It’s a story of seduction, addiction, and entrapment. Now she is following him, just as he followed her, and just as he had followed his mother. But it’s not the same, they have been touched by love and that has spoiled everything.

Juan Jose Ballesta has been playing this type of character in films for several years now, and he has refined his performance to a impressive realism. Both he and Valverde are very convincing and subtle actors. The story is an imperfect parable, but movingly played, making the easily seduced in the audience, myself included, forget about the otherwise annoying gaps and borderline clichés.

See Also: 7 Virgins.

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May 31, 2009 - Posted by | cinema | , , , , ,

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