Movie-wise, Colombia is nothing if not a ready-made arena for Everyman-vs.-social-strife gladiatorial engagement, and this earnest debut homes in on a gaggle of preteen schoolkids more interested in soccer than the quietly snowballing threat of FARC rebel forces and government militias looking to claim their village one family hut at a time. At first, Arbeláez’s film, shot in the steep greenery of Valle del Cauca, is heartwarming-import cliché heaven—with peasant simplicity, doe-eyed urchins, and two friends defending an albino wimp from bullying. But then the guerrillas show up muscling for recruits and the pressure mounts for the community, forming a fog of doom around the kids, which they try to ignore as they attempt to rescue a soccer ball from a newly land-mined field. Arbeláez indulges in occasional twinges of Hollywood “emphasis,” but mostly the film glides on its matter-of-fact textures, particularly the barbed but concrete rapport between sparky Manuel (Hernán Mauricio Ocampo) and put-upon Julian (Nolberto Sánchez), kids who can negotiate civil war and exploding livestock while musing over a variously gauged bullet collection and picking berries along the way.
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