DVD Review - Hidden Away (A escondidas)

Writer-director Mikel Rueda has flashbacks that don't feel like flashbacks. You don't know you're even watching a flashback until a scene or action is repeated on screen. Rueda does circles without the viewer even knowing it. The movie is mostly linear, but it can seem as if it's non-linear. It can even seem rather oblong. The Spanish film tells the brief, coming-of-age stories of two, teenage boys from different backgrounds who develop a sincere and romantic love for one another.

There are two points where Rueda circles back on his narrative, creating two flashbacks. Each point involve the two, teenage boys either coming together and clashing in some way. The first point is an incident at a nightclub and the second point is a potential, drug deal. It makes the narrative a bit confusing and I don't see the need for it. It only works to add a feeling of deja vu but not much else. Rueda basically jumps forward and back in time because he can.

Adil Koukouh stars as Ibrahim or Ibra, a tall, gorgeous, teenager from Morocco who finds himself in Spain. At first, it seems as if he's homeless, an immigrant who just arrived in the country. A fellow, Arab named Youssef who's probably from Morocco too gives Ibra shelter but Youssef appears to survive through petty theft and drug dealing. Ibra does get legal help and is able to go to school. Yet, the threat of deportation does loom over him and his fellow Arabs, but his main problem seems to be xenophobia or just plain bigotry from the white Spaniards.

Germán Alcarazu co-stars as Rafa, a teenage, white Spaniard who is friends with those who are bigoted or xenophobic toward guys like Ibra. Rafa isn't bigoted and xenophobic himself, but he has to pretend to be because he's trying to hide or deflect his true feelings. Rafa falls in love with Ibra, but he doesn't tell his friends because of the aura of homophobia that hangs in the air.

Beyond that, Rueda doesn't employ much of a plot. It's more about teenage self-discovery, expression of masculinity and the gay-male gaze. Much of this is Rafa staring at Ibra. Rueda does much to accentuate Ibra's beauty, as Koukouh looks like he could be a male model. Rueda takes several opportunities to show off Koukouh's body, even making him a water-polo player for no reason.

Despite the homoerotic romance that blossoms here, Rueda never has the two boys kiss or have sex. One could praise this decision as the promotion of same-sex attraction or same-gender love without the need to debase with that physical aspect. One could praise this depiction as more about the emotional connection. However, the criticism could be that there's nothing that really distinguishes this from a friendship or what could be called a bromance between two straight males.

Even though it's never stated directly, there are plenty of context clues to suggest both Ibra and Rafa are gay. Rafa does confess his disinterest in girls to his friend Guille, played by Joseba Ugalde. Ibra doesn't deny when bullies basically tease him for being gay. However, any lack of declaration of sexual orientation isn't the problem. Ibra being a kind of cipher is the problem. Rueda avoids revealing Ibra's back-story, which is frustrating.

It makes the ending a bit hollow because that's when Rueda kicks in a kind of plot. Ibra is threatened to be deported, or sent back to wherever he originated. Yet, Rueda doesn't give us much to know what that origin was or why we should be with Ibra not wanting to return there. The performances from the two boys is good enough to convince us that he does have a reason to stay. It's just not properly counter-balanced.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 35 mins.


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