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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018 New Directors

Review: Notes For a Heist Film

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- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: León Siminiani’s second feature starts off with a focus on the director himself, before passing the torch to the bank robber whose career he is researching

Review: Notes For a Heist Film

Five years ago, León Siminiani took the diary film to its highest peak of recognition among festival juries and critics alike with his first full-length film, Mapa [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
. Half a decade on, he’s presenting his second documentary, Notes For a Heist Film [+see also:
trailer
interview: León Siminiani
film profile
]
in the New Directors section of the 66th San Sebastián International Film Festival. Like Mapa, the film kicks off in the first person, with a voiceover by Siminiani himself and a peek inside his intimate everyday environment, eventually shifting the focus to its real protagonist: Flako, whom the press has nicknamed “The Robin Hood of Vallecas”.

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As the title suggests, it all started with Siminiani’s fascination with that subgenre of films whose plots hinge on characters intent on swiping some kind of loot: Hollywood has chalked up a fair few titles in this vein, but European cinema, from Italy to Spain, has been slow to follow suit. Thus, Apuntes… begins with some wonderfully old-school opening credits in black and white, evoking the instantly recognisable title sequences of the old celluloid classics. This eagerness to reclaim the style of a long-vanished kind of film, reinforced by animated sequences and others salvaged from audiovisual archives, is palpable throughout a documentary that, over its five years of development, has cheerfully wandered off on tangents that take it perilously far from its original premise.

Initially, in his obsessive efforts to equip himself for making a hold-up film, Siminiani began researching the object of his curiosity: the man who, via the sewers and tortuous passages beneath Madrid, managed to doggedly lead a gang who succeeded in pulling off a number of hits — that is, until the day when he was busted by the police and thrown behind bars. But Flako’s incarceration is no deterrent to Siminiani, who visits him in prison and takes advantage of his day passes to spend the afternoon with him, chatting about who he is, where he came from and how he sees his future.

Flako, however, cannot show his face: his wife — quite reasonably — has forbidden it, and he himself is afraid that one day his son will see him on screen and replicate those acts that prevent him from being in San Sebastian to present the film in which he stars, just as he followed in his own father’s criminal footsteps. In order to continue filming, Siminiani gives him the mask that he wears on screen, following him on his path to social reintegration.

The growing friendship and rapport between the filmmaker and his real-life subject is narrated throughout with a certain degree of humour, irony and affection. The spirit of the diary film lives on in Apuntes…, even if it boasts not one, but two narrators. And, as in Siminiani’s debut film, this director who is so fond of games, chicanery and narrative riddles hangs too much on the power of first-hand experience, private obsessions and a series of events which, at times, come across as anodyne and lacking real significance. Ultimately, the director’s fascination with his subject fails to touch the audience, our empathy hampered by Flako’s covered face and the fact that, sometimes, the things he has to say are just not that interesting.

Notes For a Heist Film, written and directed by Siminiani, was produced by Avalon P.C. in association with Tusitala Producciones Cinematográficas and Pandora Cinema; its distribution arm, Avalon DA, will manage the film’s release in Spanish cinemas on 5 December this year.

(Translated from Spanish)

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