By Carlos Aguilar | SydneysBuzz December 5, 2013 at 11:30AM
15 Years + 1 Day, Spain's Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. U.S. : None Yet. International Sales Agent: LATIDO
"It takes a village to raise a child" is a phrased coined more like an understatement than literal speech. The shared responsibility of providing a new individual with the guidelines to be a member of a determined society is indeed a collective effort that parents cannot accomplish alone. Multiple sources of encouragement and advising are required to embed the young and malleable mind with the tools to abide by the desired parameters, and to function as what is seen as civilized by that group. Teachers, mentors, and relatives, all bestow onto this untainted developing person their own cognitive skills that allow them to see the world in a specific way. In Gracia Querejeta’s heartwarming and thoughtful feature 15 Years +1 Day this joined task is incredibly crucial when the protagonist disrespectful and rebellious behavior gets out of hand.
Affluent homemaker and aspiring actress Margo (Maribel Verdú) is at wit's end unable to decipher the reasons for her teenage son’s constant misbehavior. Jon (Arón Piper), is an overly confident 14 year old troublemaker, who like many kids his age seems to have a hard time dealing with authority and anyone who prevents him from doing anything as he pleases. Expelled from school for pulling hazardous pranks on teachers and after mischievously poisoning the neighbor’s dog, his mother finds herself debating what to do with him. She is left with no alternative but to send him to a coastal town with his estrange grandfather Max (Tito Valverde). Once there, Jon is forced to adapt to life without much modern technology and Max’s strict moral standards as an ex-soldier.
To fight the intolerable boredom Jon makes friends with the local kids who instantly prove to be the wrong crowd. Nelson (Pau Poch), an Ecuadorian boy, is the leader of the pack of young bandits who steal and resell goods for a living. Then there is Elsa (Sfía Mohamed), a simple-minded but caring girl who acts as the voice of reason trying to prevent the testosterone-fueled brutes from acting impulsively. Believing it would help him get back on track, Max hires Toni (Boris Cucalón), a boy accused of being homosexual, to give Jon private lessons, which doesn’t suit him well. As part of the gang now, Jon expresses his aversion towards Toni, to which hardheaded Nelson responds by retaliating against the innocent dedicated young man. The aftermath of the attack leaves Jon in a coma, another boy dead, and a mystery, which Max will try to solve against the advise of his longtime romantic interest inspector Aledo (Belén López).
In this character driven piece about the complexity of parent/children relationships, Valverde marvelously plays a man whose incapacity to act irrationally and get in touch with his emotions has led him to live in a reclusive state. Strangely enough his relationship with Jon serves as a lesson on the fact that sometimes doing the wrong thing is what is best for the heart, and that love is not ruled by any absolute principles. His performance is matched by Piper’s, as the boy whose defiance simply hides the honest and loving guy battling with hormones and trying to understand the adults’ ambivalence. Seasoned actress Verdu can certainly turn any seemingly common role into a commendable acting job. Broken and surely regretful as Margo, she exposes herself as a villain to her own child and vents into deaf ears all the wrongdoings of her past. Touching and miraculously nuanced she proves once more why she is one of the most important Spanish performers of her generation.
Immensely entertaining, the film is reminiscent of master Pedro Almodvar’s work with a less stylized but equally successful analysis of the Spanish society. There is a witty and acidic comedic tone in the dialogue and intelligently developed characters throughout, all attributed to Querejeta's sophisticated writing. She penned and directed a film about male role models with a heavily feminine point of view. This intimate piece blends the evident unresolved family feuds with a whodunit plot, both of which reinforce the idea that every person is a reflection of his/her parents’ mistakes, achievements, idiosyncrasies, and prejudices. Querejeta makes sure to inform the viewer about every character’s family dynamics, their flaws and expectations of each other, and thanks to this the story about adolescent problems transmutes into a movingly insightful exploration of parenthood. Profound and engaging 15 Years +1 Day is a story about the children’s realization that parents are imperfect creatures, and that whatever they can teach or pass on is a diluted version of their fears and fascinations rather than fixed instructions for life.