“Piola” is an interesting, downbeat coming-of-age in hip hop tale set in Quilicura, a neighborhood of Santiago, Chile.
It’s a film of rapper wannabes, a kid with a kid of his own and a girl testing the limits of her single-mom with bad decisions that have consequences.
Writer-director Luis Pérez García creates a tale that begins in lazy aimlessness, with a lot of characters, that boils down to three kids and a moment of purpose, a day that ends with the hope that maybe tomorrow some of this will sort itself out.
It’s rough around the edges and melodramatic. But “Piola” — a colloquial term for “quiet” and “ignored” — manages to be likable within the borders of its limitations.
Martín (Max Galgado) is obsessed with his music. He’s saved up for gear, cuts tracks in his apartment and even gets kicked out of school for rapping (profanely) the state of the ‘hood, as he sees it. He’s so into this dream that he’s dodging his parents’ pleas for him to pack, as they’ve hit hard times and are facing foreclosure.
Martín prefers hanging with his boys, hitting parties and wandering the junk yard. Which is where he finds “the gun.”
Sol (Ignacia Uribe) is the apple of her mom’s (Paula Zúñiga) eye, but distracted from her schoolwork, soccer, Mom and everything else by this older tattoo artist she’s into. It doesn’t matter that he’s got another girlfriend. She grabs any opportunity she can to cut out of school to be with him. Mom doesn’t know that until the day their beloved Boxer runs off.
And Charly (René Miranda) is a rapper/hype man from Martín’s crew, De La Urbe (“Of the City”). He’s always late, poor and struggling to talk his baby mama into letting him see his child. Hanging with his boys is a way to avoid thinking about his limited future, a denial they all have in common.
First-time feature director Pérez García dips into these lives, following the boys into a party, where they get into a fight, and a convenience store, where a fellow stoner is all that stands between them and swiped food and drinks, and the police.
Sol’s world is more limited. It’s just her, her mom and this 20ish boyfriend who likes having a teen side-chick.
The only thing they all have in common is losing themselves in whatever music they’re into — the isolation of ear buds.
A running thread through “Piola” is a line Martín raps, first to his class, then in the song that spins out of that “People in this city don’t know how to be happy.”
It’s not like he has the answers. The “aimlessness of youth” has rarely been as bluntly portrayed as it is in “Piola.” Life lessons such as not putting things off until the last minute, meeting your responsibilities and “half of life is just showing up” haven’t sunk in yet.
Pérez García tries to organize this not-wholly-random collection of scenes and lives fated to intersect with “chapters” — “Martín finds a gun,” “Car Accident,” etc. While some of those chapters give away exactly what’s to come, others defy expectations, the tropes of “I just want to be a rap star” stories.
The Chilean angle is unusual, too. If there’s a serious selling point to this streaming service, it’s in the vast swaths of international cinema Netflix exposes you to, if you look for it.
“Around the world with Netflix” isn’t just a punch line. I can count the number of Chilean, Nigerian, Malaysian and films from too many other countries I’d seen on one hand before streamers made Caribbean, South American, African, Southeast Asian and other cinema — films that rarely reached US theaters — readily available.
“Piola” isn’t great cinema, but it is perspective-puncturing in that regard, an intriguing peek into lives like ours, and distinct from our own, and thus a film well worth a look.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, violence, drug use, profanity
Cast: Max Galgado, Ignacia Uribe, René Miranda and Paula Zúñiga
Credits: Scripted and directed by Luis Pérez García. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:43