out of Five
Running time: 115
Impressively directed, engaging thriller with strong performances and some excruciatingly tense scenes.
Los Debutantes is the debut feature from Chilean co-writer-director Andres Waissbluth. The film was a huge success in its native country, where it picked up a handful of prizes and became Chile’s Official Oscar Submission Film last year.
Structurally and thematically, the film recalls both Innaritu’s Amores Perros and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction; it also features a terrific central performance from newcomer Antonella Rios.
Victor (Juan Pablo Miranda) and Silvio (Cantillana) are two small town brothers who move to the big city after the death of their mother. When
Silvio takes Victor to a strip club to celebrate his 17th birthday, both brothers are captivated by whipped cream act stripper Graciella (Antonella Rios), who happens to be the girlfriend of local mobster Don Pascual (Alejandro Trejo).
After intervening in a brawl in the club, Silvio is hired by Pascual and given work as a henchman. He is then seduced by Graciella and begins an affair with her, unaware that his younger brother Victor is seeing her too. But is Graciella a scheming femme fatale or a desperate victim?
The film is cleverly told in three sections, from three different
perpectives: first from Victor’s, then Silvio’s and finally Graciella’s. In the first two segments, the action abruptly returns to the beginning just as things are getting unbearably tense; this is frustrating but it also intensifies the suspense and our desire to uncover the whole story.
Each segment also completely changes the audience’s view of Graciella, so that you’re never quite sure who she’ll end up with, or, consequently, who to root for.
The performances are superb. Miranda and Cantillana (who looks a lot like TV’s Jake 2.0) are believable as brothers and their characters are authentic and well-observed. However, the stand-out is the stunningly gorgeous Antonella Rios, who gives a compellingly complex, multi-layered performance that forms the heart of the film. There’s also strong support from veteran actor Alejandro Trejo, who exudes a chilling air of menace as Don Pascual.
Waissbluth’s direction is assured throughout; the sex scenes are erotic and exciting, while the scenes of violence are disturbingly realistic. In addition, the set-up of the plot lends itself to some unbearably tense sequences, particularly in the second segment of the film. There are also some extremely clever reversals and some memorable scenes, such as Victor and Graciella having sex behind a screen in a porn cinema. There’s also an impressive soundtrack that adds considerably to the film.
If the film has a flaw, it’s only that Victor and Silvio seem too passive in their fate and neither of them attempts to uncover the truth about what Graciella is up to. However, this makes sense, as it gradually becomes clear that the boys are not the main focus of the story after all.
In short, Los Debutantes is a compellingly suspenseful thriller that’s worth seeing for Antonella Rios’s stunning debut performance. Highly recommended.