cowardsThis is a curious film ostensibly about bullying, but may well have deeper themes that go into youthful fear and how we sometimes cover our fears with bluster. I don’t want to get all amateur psychiatrist on you, but this film raises many more questions than it answers and I don’t say that as a criticism.

Gaby is a young boy with red hair who is teased with the seemingly innocuous nickname of “Carrot”. Believe me, nicknames like that are designed to insult and this one definitely does. Guille is the leader of a small gang that is doing most of the picking on Gaby and there is never any indication why this is so, or how long it has been going on. Is that important information, I’m not sure, but not knowing the reasons behind this do not distract from the film.

Being a contemporary film, the whole schoolyard bullying and teasing has moved into the world of cell phones and the Internet. This should not be surprising, but some of the standard problems still remain. The bullied kid feels totally alone and there aren’t any adults around who seem to know what is actually going on. This is not their fault per se, especially since the kids won’t say one word about it.

In an ironic twist, one time when Gaby in a stall in the bathroom (I can’t speak for schools in Spain, but no one in any urban high school in the USA goes into the boys bathroom to do anything but cause trouble), and while there, someone, unseen by us, sets a trash can on fire and then breaks the lock on the stall trapping Gaby who manages to escape.

In a rage, he runs right up to Guille and cold cocks him and then continues punching him until several teachers have to pull him off. I said this was ironic because it is from this quite visible act of anger that Gaby becomes tagged as the bully and Guille as the victim, characterizations that neither boy likes. But it does send their various parents off on the wrong tangents.

There are several scenes involving the two boys very busy parents, who are always planning to talk to their kids later about their problems but they never quite get around to it. On another level, we see the parents getting pushed around at their jobs and in their social lives and you do come to realize exactly how much crap we adults have to put up with on a daily basis from other people.

I was afraid at one point that this film might degenerate into a Columbine like bid for revenge or vindication or perhaps end with a round of big hugs and friendly understanding, but fortunately, director/writers Jose Curacao and Juan Cruz manage to provide a solution to Gaby’s problem that is original, without being particularly helpful.

Otherwise, the film rises or falls on the performances of the kids and they are all around excellent.  A very thought provoking drama that didn’t take the easy way out.

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