QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM SAN SEBASTIAN
This cinematic experience lasts 220 minutes. In other words: three hours and 40 minutes. The filmmaker is aware that this is a demanding duration. One of the film characters explains in the first few minutes that the movie has two five-minute breaks in the middle for you “to relax or to go to the toilet”. He also explains that the film took five years to complete. Then the screen then splits into gallery view, revealing seven or eight further movie characters, in what looks like a Zoom meeting. They share their excitement at the news that the movie has now been finished.
Rewind five years, back to 2016. A group of adolescents attend a secondary school somewhere in Madrid. They are studious and politicised. Most had a left-leaning upbringing, yet one of them confesses that his parents are very conservative. They are very idealistic, and question just about everything around them: the futility of the political spectrum, the future of their nation, the roles of teachers, their interpersonal relations, and the meaning of love. Their discussions are highly passionate yet civilised.
These adolescents smoke, drink and have sex. But this is not a Spanish version Kids (Larry Clark, 1995). This is not a misanthropic movie about failed youth. Quite the opposite. They are inspiring teens, overflowing with intelligence, dreams and determination. Young people in whose hands you’d happily leave the future of your country. Their parents (who are never featured in movie) must feel lucky to have such fascinating persons in their lives. And they too seem extremely comfortable in their own skin, and in each other’s presence.
The first part of the film consists of a collection of random conversations at school, in parks and residences, including a very cheeky drinking game. The second part focuses on a trip two students in love – Silvio and Candela – take to the Portuguese border, and also a field trip to Granada involving the entire troupe. This is were a truth or dare game takes place, with one student feeling humiliated. The third part revolves mostly around music. We see the teens turn into adults in 2018, 2020 and present day. Victor plays the titular song Who’s Stopping Us (Quien Lo Impide, by the late composer Rafael Berrio), which provides the answer to the given question: “Nobody’s stopping us”. Next see we these students cast their vote in general elections for the first time in their lives. The writing is on the wall.
Despite the message of hope of empowerment, Who’s Stopping Us also reveals that Covid instilled fear and uncertainty into the lives of these young people. Spain had the strictest anti-Covid requirements in Europe, with citizens unable to leave their house even for exercise. As a consequence, these promising young people were left isolated and without work, very concerned about their future.
This is a very intimate portrait of youth. A picture so intimate that for a minute I thought it had been directed by one of the adolescents. Forty-year-old director Jonas Trueba managed to deep-dive into world of Spanish youth. The movie format is highly experimental, blending formats and languages. Trueba toys with metalanguage, with the characters openly referring to the movie and addressing the audience, during the “Zoom meeting” opening and the closing sequence. The story navigates smoothly from documentary to fiction, leaving audiences curious as to how much of the action was staged. There are talking heads takes, fly-on-the-wall sequences and multiple narrators. Despite the chronological coherence (without zigzagging back and forth in time) ,conversations and scenes do not follow any specific patterns, the narrative wizardry creating a hypnotic experience. It takes some time to feel at home with these adolescents, with the first part of the film feeling a little laborious. But once you get intimate you won’t want to leave, making the duration of film wholly justifiable.
Who’s Stopping Us is showing in Competition at the 69th San Sebastian International Film Festival. It received a thunderous ovation lasting roughly five minutes. A strong candidate for the event’s top prize, the Golden Shell. Will indeed nobody stop these young people?
Below is a teaser of the film from 2019, while it was still work-in-progress: