Cannes 2014: 'Beautiful Youth' review

Screening in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Jaime Rosales' Beautiful Youth (2014) aspires to a gritty realism but its narrative slackness make it a gimmicky and occasionally complicit portrayal of Spanish love on the dole. Carlos (Carlos Rodríguez) and Natalia (Ingrid García Jonsson) are a young couple, both without work and both living with their mothers - their fathers being largely out of the picture. They go from day to day, bored and listless except on the occasions they go out for a night with their friends. Carlos gets some money working for his friend's father on a building site. But the work is cash in hand - not a great deal of cash at that - and sporadic.

Natalia lives with her mother, brother and sister, and spends most of her time in bed, listening to music or arguing with her mother, occasionally venturing out to do a spot of idle shoplifting. Carlos and herself are both adrift. In an attempt to get some money, they decide to enter porn. This isn't an act of desperation - a last-ditch degradation - so much as just an idea, easy money. In fact, for Carlos it's even a bit of a fantasy. It also gives the film a hook with which to sell it. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008) meets Loachian social realism. There are no consequences, either on their lives, or on the progress of the film. This might even be taken for a lack of moralising if it wasn't for the fact that all the episodes are just things that happen, loosely connected by the fact they happen to the same folk.

Natalia gets pregnant, on purpose it's suggested, though she claims otherwise. Meanwhile, Carlos gets involved in a fight which puts him in the hospital, but which might also lead to compensation claim. To speed things up a little, a series of montages of phone photos and messaging relay tranches of time and important events. The moments, playing out with no music and only the pings and alarms, deaden what pace Beautiful Youth had and distances us further from two characters who, in their docility, have little to recommend them anyway beyond their beauty and their youth. The gimmick adds little to Rosales' latest offering beyond the ho-hum impression that Carlos and Natalia at least have fairly decent smartphones.

Even the birth of their baby, Giulia, doesn't change matters significantly. Natalia's plan to move to Germany continues regardless. And so Beautiful Youth rambles on, with nothing connecting and little of interest being said. Visually the film is lacklustre and though the two leads are naturalistic, their characters are flat. The porn angle makes a return, but it's hard not to suspect that the filmmaker is just keen to add some rauch. Individuals like Carlos and Natalia deserve to be visible and there is a valid urge to tell their stories, but Rosales has instead given us a drab and pointless slice of vaguely implausible life.

The 67th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 14-25 May 2014. For more Cannes coverage, simply follow this link.

John Bleasdale


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