Hidden Away (A escondidas) is set in Bilbao, however the use of tight camera angles and intimate portraiture often leaves the unique metropolitan atmosphere of this Spanish city playing second fiddle to a gritty and emotional story between two young boys. Through tight, handheld shots, director Mikel Rueda places the viewer in an intimate position as the story unfolds with subject matter incorporating aggression, economic, racial, love and survival.
The opening title sequences incorporate a close up view of a road speeding by with the sound of a truck engine overhead. The opening scene is of a heated exchange between gas station employees and 14 year old Moroccan Ibrahim (Adil Koukouh) who is accused of theft. Youssef (Moussa Echarif) a fellow Moroccan steps in, to defuse the racial tension and leads Ibrahim into his harem of illegal immigrants, who survive by stealing and selling drugs.
14 year old school boy Rafa (played by German Alcarazu in his onscreen debut) is beginning to identify that his group of school friends have different ambitions and desires. The viewer is able to eavesdrop on graphic conversations within the group of friends. Topics continually focus on sex, racism and it provides the viewer with a raw representation of Spanish youth whose families are struggling to make ends meet.
As the backdrop of Bilbao may appear bleak on camera, the film’s soundtrack is unfailingly attractive, Indie-Bohemian Pop. Artists include Julianna Barwick, South San Gabriel, Night Beds and Belako whose music lifts and glides the viewer through the story lines.
Ibrahim and Rafa’s paths cross in a local nightclub bathroom, glances are exchanged but a brawl that breaks out in the club separates the two who eventually make contact once more at a community swimming pool, during a game of water polo. Rafa begins to search and follow Ibrahim which leads him to a hostel for immigrants, run by Alicia (Ana Wagener) and managed by father figure Jose (Alex Angulo).
As Rafa withdraws from his circle of friends, Guille (Joseba Ugalde) a childhood friend coveys his concern and a sense of anxiety at the growing divide. When Rafa and Ibrahim bond, its often in silence, their body language communicates what their minds perhaps cannot fully comprehend. Their eyes show the fear of the circumstances that are beyond their control, but also acknowledging a mutual respect to one another.
When Ibrahim is informed that he will be deported in two days, he packs and leaves the hostel centre. Rafa manages to locates him and it transpires that Ibrahim also owes money to Youssef and is frightened for his life. With no hope of remaining in Bilbao, Rafa plans to flee with Ibrahim and both boys bump into Guille in an emotional exchange. Guille passes money to Rafa, conveying that he doesn’t understand his choices. It becomes clear that Guille is actually in love with Rafa, he’s heartbroken that he chose to pursue Ibrahim over himself.
As the two boys flee, they come into contact with Youssef who this time, is fleeing with his younger disabled brother from the guardia urbana. Perhaps its fate, but this last encounter sets off a change of events where the should-be partners need to make an adult decision far beyond their years.
Hidden Away (A escondidas) is a heartbreaking film; Ibrahim and Rafa are too young to be able to change the circumstances that surround them. The audience is left feeling as a hopeless bystander, unable to offer assistance. Recognizing the past is not the future, viewers find comfort in the glimmer of hope that these two characters may meet once again, perhaps in another story. To capture the loss of first love on screen not once but twice was devastating for this viewer as I sobbed into a box of tissues, and no doubt annoyed those around me at the film screening. The acting and storytelling were so realistic that I felt genuine concern for Guille, Rafa and Ibrahim, I hope that they are all safe.