Riff Raff (Los Canallas)
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Film festivals are the perfect opportunity to get to know young, up-and-coming filmmakers—like the young Ecuadoran directors of Riff Raff, a film that’s currently on the festival circuit. Told in three cuts by a team of four student directors, it tells the stories of an assortment of outsiders and their struggling relationships.

The first cut, We Love Helena So Much, is the three-part story of insecure teenager Helena (Ana Cristina Franco), who worries that she’s too fat and ugly to attract a boy like Esteban (Diego Coral López). But once he becomes her boyfriend—and he gets involved in her life—their relationship takes an unexpected turn.

Of the three, Helena is the least professional. Though it’s still impressive for a student film, the writing, acting, and directing are clearly amateur—and it often comes off feeling like a high school play. It doesn’t help that the characters are generally unlikeable—or that it tries so hard to be edgy and artistic that the storytelling suffers. The result is muddled and confusing (with plenty of gratuitous nudity).

It does, however, get better. The second cut, Blows of Life, is a much shorter, much simpler film about another rocky relationship. Daniel (Jorge Alejandro Fegan) is a boxer who absolutely loves being in the ring—but his wife, Sofia (Cristina Coral), is worried about him. She begs him to quit—if not for her, then for their unborn child. But when he refuses once again, she questions his commitment to their marriage.

Blows is a thoughtful, straightforward film that, at times, is strikingly beautiful. It’s the shortest of the three—so it doesn’t get a lot of time to develop the characters or their stories—but it works well within its limitations. It doesn’t try to do too much—or to be something it’s not—and that makes it the most successful of the three films.

The final cut, Those You Find fits somewhere between the two. Once again told in three parts, it follows three characters. In the first part, Fernando (Andrés Galarza) wanders around the city instead of going home to say goodbye to his father, who’s decided to move out. The second part follows a street musician/security guard as he watches three friends who are saying their goodbyes at the bus station. And, finally, we return to Helena, a lonely teenager with a persistent problem.

While the film’s final cut has some interesting ideas—and it makes some thoughtful connections to the other two cuts—the storytelling is still awkward and confusing. It seems to be trying to tie the whole film together, but it just doesn’t get its point across.

Together, the three cuts of Riff Raff make for a frustrating (and perplexing) short film. While the student directors show great ambition—and they have some good ideas, too—the film also shows their inexperience and immaturity. They seem to be so focused on being edgy that they forget to develop the characters or their stories, making the final product feel awkward and disjointed. You won’t care about the characters—and their stories (with the exception of Daniel and Sofia’s) just don’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s an impressive first film from these four young filmmakers—but it’s one that’s probably best kept in the classroom.

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