El Bola | Chicago Reader

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This gritty and absorbing 2000 feature by Spanish director Achero Mañas opens with a taut sequence of schoolkids playing chicken in a railroad yard, racing from either side of the track to grab a bottle of water just before a train arrives. The same dynamic plays out in the story, as young Pablo—nicknamed “El Bola” for the ball bearing he carries around—befriends Alfredo, a fellow outcast at school, and Alfredo's dad enlists the help of a social worker to rescue Pablo from his hateful and abusive father. Written by Mañas and Veronica Fernandez, this is quick and unpredictable storytelling, its dialogue simple but tough. Alberto Jimenez is excellent as the conscience-stricken father, whose duty to respect the law tests his relationship with his own son, and both kids, Juan Jose Ballesta and Pablo Galan, give passionate, committed performances. In Spanish with subtitles. 88 min.

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