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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2021 Competition

Review: Who’s Stopping Us

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- Jonás Trueba’s latest film is a masterfully executed triple-corkscrew somersault that leaves us in no doubt we are in the presence of a unique and dazzling talent

Review: Who’s Stopping Us

It’s universally known that Jonás Trueba is a man obsessed with film. Raised among spotlights and cameras, the Madrid-born director has spent more than a decade proving that his cinematic devotion is more than just a professional zeal; it’s an existential necessity that saturates his world. Who’s Stopping Us [+see also:
trailer
interview: Jonás Trueba
film profile
]
is his most recent project to date, now screening at the 69th San Sebastián International Film Festival and in the running for the Golden Shell.

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Trueba’s vision of cinema as a medium for engaging with reality has always been palpable in his work. His films are sprinkled with references to his idols and stylistic choices that blur the boundary between the real and the imaginary, between cinema and our own reality. The hallmarks of his art are given full expression in his latest film, a prodigious work with a runtime of over three hours, centred on a group of teenagers who commit heart and soul to every scene. Together, Trueba and his cast create an electrifying fresco that speaks of a pivotal moment in the life of every human being.

Let’s not pretend that the gargantuan length provokes no misgivings as we take our seats. But don’t be deterred — you’ll soon get over it. During a brief prologue, where Trueba addresses his young cast across the miles, he himself pokes fun at the film’s duration, urging his intrepid companions to have faith in the audience’s ability to relax into the experience. If the idea is to get us to sit back and entrust ourselves to their hands, mission accomplished.

From this point, it’s just a matter of riding the wave. Arranged into three acts separated by two five-minute comfort breaks, the film commands a deft blend of purely documentary footage and fictional scenarios. In the real-world, Trueba chats familiarly with the young people under his wing, in a display of respect and empathy that allows moments of real truth to emerge. The intelligence and maturity of these kids radiates from the screen, leaving the audience profoundly moved. In the realm of fiction, the director plays with different narrative approaches, using diverse techniques like the choral voiceover to inject an extra shot of freshness to his stories, already pulsing with audacity and zest.

Although this is undoubtedly a collaborative work, where the young people’s voices are given equal weight to the vision of a director at the peak of his craft, Trueba’s fingerprints shine through in every frame: his extravagant romanticism, his drawn-out wandering through Madrid’s streets and parks, his penchant for summer street parties.... Ultimately, recognising that his cast have every bit as much to say creatively as he does himself, the director gives them plenty of space to tell some highly compelling stories, sculpting a cohesive whole where their identities as artists and their vision of the world coalesce to give us this truly colossal film. And we’re not just talking about its runtime.

Trueba’s latest offering is so audacious, so gutsy that it’s verging on a kamikaze venture. The result is a simply stunning film that makes being in a cinema among strangers a new and more powerful experience, as we share the intense emotions evoked by watching a group of such likeable humans bare their most intimate selves in the name of cinematic art.

Who’s Stopping Us was produced by Los Ilusos Films in partnership with La Cineteca de Madrid and will be distributed in Spain by Atalante.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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