Daniel (Fernando Moreno) dreams of being a soccer star, but Julio (Eliú Armas) is more pragmatic, and the stark reality of providing for his family leads him down an illegal path. When they are offered the opportunity to try out for the Caracas Football Club, they see a way out of the slums even as a tragedy threatens to tear the brothers apart.
SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL: This impressive first feature from Venezuelan filmmaker Marcel Rasquin is an engaging variation on the soccer as a metaphor for life theme, a tough-minded drama set in a grim, crime-ridden slum.
The smart screenplay by Rasquin and Melbourne-based Rohan Jones (who met the director in 2003 at the Victorian College of the Arts where Rasquin was a student) focuses on two youths who are raised as brothers: Julio (Eliú Armas) and Daniel (Fernando Moreno).
Their bond is as tight as any between blood brothers, forged when Julio and his single mother (Marcela Giron) found baby Daniel abandoned in a garbage dump.
The siblings are chalk-and-cheese. Big, muscular Julio is a cocky extrovert, fancies himself as a stud and works as a standover man for the local crime boss in the La Ceniza barrio. Scrawny Daniel is 16, a high school student, shy, gentle and sensitive. Both are passionate about soccer.
The boys are inseparable. Julio affectionately calls his brother 'cat’ because he was wailing like a cat when they found him. Julio is the captain of the barrio’s football team which plays on dirt fields, and Daniel is the skilful striker. 'You’ve got a gift," Julio tells him. Their mother is having an affair with the La Ceniza team’s coach, who’s married and serves both as a mentor and father figure to Daniel.
Daniel dreams of escaping the poverty and privations of the slums by winning a place at a big city professional team and gets the chance to try out for the Caracas club after he’s spotted by a talent scout. Daniel loyally insists that Julio joins him in the trial and the Caracas chiefs agree on one proviso – that La Ceniza wins the championship game against a rival barrio.
After Daniel’s prized boots are stolen, a violent incident involving three young neighbourhood punks threatens to drive a dangerous wedge between the brothers and to jeopardise Daniel’s ambitions of making the big league.
An interesting but under-developed sub-plot follows Daniel’s increasingly tender relationship with a sweet young girl who is pregnant, but not to him.
The director delivers numerous moments of dramatic power laced with violence, and the ending is a knock-out. He elicits terrific, entirely natural performances from his young cast, particularly Armas as the headstrong, angry Julio, Moreno as the innocent, virginal Daniel and Alí Rondon as their teammate Max. Also effective is Beto Benites as the vicious gangster Morocho.
Rasquin’s training as a commercial and music video director shows in the football sequences which are as inventively staged as any I’ve seen, the camera in constant movement.
The movie won the top prize at last year’s Moscow International Film Festival and the audience award at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival and was Venezuela’s entry for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards; had it been nominated, it would have been a first for Venezuela.
In telling a compelling story that expresses much about life in his homeland, Rasquin is a real talent: it’ll be fascinating to see what he can achieve with a bigger budget on a wider canvas.