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Precious Metal

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DOK Leipzig

MOVIE REVIEW
Tender Metalheads (2023)

It is exceedingly difficult to make a movie about the friendship between two teenage metalheads without the ghosts of Beavis and Butt-Head spoiling things, but a setting of pre-Olympic Barcelona certainly helps. The kids in “Tender Metalheads” use music as an escape, both from their difficult daily lives but also their fears about the future. The political situation of the time is never discussed directly, but the state of the adults – including a neglectful alcoholic mother and a couple scenes set in a shooting gallery (the drug kind) – makes those points indirectly. But despite people often falling short, this extremely endearing film makes it clear how hard everyone is trying to be supportive of each other. “Tender” isn’t in the title for nothing. This personable sweetness despite a gritty setting is unusual in a story about friendship, which makes this movie special indeed.

Juanjo (voiced by Xavi Teixidó) is having to repeat a year of high school, which is very embarrassing, but on starting the new year immediately befriends Miquel (voiced by Pol López). Miquel’s home life is tough while Juanjo’s is suffocating; and both of them have found solace in music, something which is completely understood by the adults around them. A dorky teacher is supportive of them, even when those musical efforts include the underage selling of booze at a school party in order to raise money for a guitar for them two to share. But Miquel has to figure out whether he can trust anyone with his tricky home situation, while Juanjo becomes so smitten with a cool girl named Clara (voiced by Laia Manzanares – and in this animation style, the only character with fully-drawn eyes) that he’s risking his academics all over again. And meanwhile there are intimidating bigger boys, mean teachers and irritating little sisters, but also the promise of a major metal concert later in the year, if they can afford the tickets and no one fails their exams.

The animation style is deceptively simple, in that the characters have heads, mouths and occasionally the outline of eyes but, with the exception of Clara, not really faces. This highly stylized method works surprisingly well at conveying emotion as well as setting, as the kids kick around the city, discuss their favorite musicians and try hard to impress each other. The movie is based on a TV show, which is based on a clearly autobiographical graphic novel by Juanjo Saez, and entirely in Catalan, which remains more unusual than it should be. This is probably what brought it to the Raindance Film Festival, which has a sharp eye for undiscovered gems of world cinema, though its slight runtime and distinct visual style means it probably won’t get the wider distribution it deserves.

This is a shame, because animation is perfect for this kind of story, in which melodramatic teenage situations as well as too-adult circumstances handled age-appropriately can have their emotions conveyed more accurately than if people were acting it out. Perhaps the visible human creation gone into the drawings compels the audience to meet it halfway, thereby doing some of the creators’ work for them. Certainly involving the audience is always a good idea, especially when it’s about teenagers trying to make sense of themselves, since this is a journey we’re all either in the middle of, or had once been. When the details are this specific and this charming it’s also oddly more relatable than if it was set on some generic America sofa. The commitment to kindness and sharing instead of American violence and contempt is also pleasing to see in art aimed at teenage boys; we need an awful lot more of it.

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