No Pain, No Gain

A bittersweet tale of teenage love and frustration, this impressive first feature by director Victor Garcia Leon has been described as ‘a Hispanic Gregory’s Girl.’ David (Biel Duran) is a 16-year-old growing up with a spectacularly dysfunctional family in a rundown area of Madrid. As he deals with the traditional difficulties of adolescence, David falls in love with beautiful classmate Gloria (Barbara Lennie), but he can’t figure out a way to get her to notice him. In time, he’s so desperate to get close to Gloria that he starts getting his teeth cleaned by her mother (Alicia Sanchez), a local dentist who tends to share her problems with her patients.
Garcia Leon’s film is distinguished from the standard teenage rites-of-passage movie by an excellent script, strong performances and acute observations on family life in a lower-class urban milieu. The film’s substance is to be found in the host of subplots that weave in and out of the hero’s life. For example, the story of David’s grandmother (played by the magnificent Maria Galiana), who burns down her house and descends into senility, is compassionately portrayed. So, too, is David’s misogynistic, embittered gym teacher (Enrique San Francisco), whose life is a one-man critique of clean, healthy living. The plethora of oddball characters and telling details make for a rich and satisfying film whose concerns go way beyond those of the teenage fantasy flick.

2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo. 95 mins

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