A 48-hour leave from reform school brings life lessons for the teenage protagonist of “7 Virgins,” a street-kids piece that combines energy and delicacy to striking and subtle effect. The best Spanish movie of its type since Fernando Leon’s 1998 “Barrio,” pic rises above genre standard with scrupulous attention to detail and an engaging central tandem. Downsides are lapses into sentimentality and visual deja vu, and an occasional inability to exploit the emotional potential. “Virgins” should snuggle up in plenty of fest beds, with arthouse interest a certainty in Spain-friendly territories.
Sixteen-year-old Tano (Juan Jose Ballesta from “Pellet” and “4th Floor”) is picked up from the Seville reform school by his ultra-taciturn brother Santacana (Vicente Romero), who warns Tano to avoid trouble. But once Tano gets back in touch with his irrepressible buddy, wide-grinning Richi (Jesus Carroza), within minutes, they are on the run in a shopping mall after stealing a wallet to buy a TV set — a wedding-gift for Santacana.
Patri (Alba Rodriguez) makes excuses to her mother and gets the bus into Seville to spend time with Tano. They have sex in attractive silhouette, after which Tano and Richi hang out at a swimming pool with members of Tano’s former gang.
Soon, Patri leaves Tano, which plunges him into depression. When the gang trashes a local bar, Tano looks on from inside a car, not wanting trouble — but he ends up battering a man to within an inch of his life.
Ballesta, the only pro thesp among the juveniles in an otherwise debutante cast, inhabits the part fully across a range of moods. Carroza is a real discovery, in what is in some ways the more interesting role. He plays Richi as a boy whose confident swagger and fetchingly roguish grin mask a basic insecurity.
None of the characters is very likeable, as scripters Rafael Cobos Lopez and Alberto Rodriguez (who also directed) play realism over pity. Still, there is the occasional mawkish moment, as when Tano pauses to sympathize with a puppy in a cage.
The dodgiest artistic decision is to incorporate an image of escape that could be interpreted as a visual allusion to 9/11, of a plane apparently flying into a tower but then emerging on the other side.
Dialogue is often the insubstantial, rat-a-tat vernacular of street kids wanting to be men, but reflective moments shatter the veneer of teen machismo to expose the fragility beneath.
Bleached-out lensing successfully reps the barrio atmospherics and the blistering temperatures of summertime Seville, supplying a vision of the city that’s far removed from the tourist guides. Music is not the regular hip-hop fare of many teen rebel pieces, but an enjoyable combination of garage band and jazz, with occasional North African inflections.
Pic is heavy with street dialect that could create problems even for Spanish auds. Title refers to an Andalucian superstition involving candles, a mirror and clairvoyance, a motif that appears throughout.
Subtitles:English , Spanish vobsubs , English MicroDVD