Color, 1982, 95 mins. 48 secs.
Directed by Eloy de la Iglesia
Starring José Luis Manzano, Isela Vega, Jaime Garza, Verónica Castro, José Sacristán, José Luís Fernández
Altered Innocence (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Divisa (Blu-ray & DVD) (Spain R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
One of the highlights of Severin Films' 2021 output was the much-needed Eloy de la Iglesia's Quinqui Collection, featuring the North American video debuts of three of the five troubled youth films made by button-pushing Spanish filmmaker Eloy de la Iglesia and his star discovery, the tragic José Luis Manzano. Thankfully one of the missing films is now back in circulation as well: Colegas, the second of their collaborations and the only one to get decent U.S. theatrical (in 1987) and VHS distribution (as Pals) in 1994 from the art film label Awards Film International at the height of Pedro Almodóvar mania. This was part of a batch of Iglesia VHS titles that became perennials in larger cities' foreign and gay interest store sections along with three others that still haven't gotten their due (Los placeres ocultos, El diputado, and El sacerdote). Of them all, Colegas is actually the least gay-centric (mainly limited to a very funny sequence at a bathhouse), instead fitting in more with the quinqui themes of urban crime, young love, and the bonds of friendship among the struggling lower class. It's also the closest in tone to where Almodóvar would soon be heading with moments of high melodrama and an episodic plot that veers our three young protagonists through a wild tapestry of encounters they're barely able to process.
José (Manzano) is desperately looking for work but not having luck in the long job application lines, while his home life (including a frequently absent cab driver dad) is spent in a bedroom with his two younger brothers. The one solace he has is time with his group of friends including girlfriend Rosario (Rosario Flores) and her brother, best buddy Antonio (her real-life brother, singer Antonio Flores). When Rosario gets pregnant, José and Antonio decide to take matters into their own hands and raise the money needed for an abortion -- be it holding up a shop with switchblades, sleeping with an older woman to beg for money, hustling unsuccessfully in a sauna, or eventually becoming international drug mules. Through it all their friendship is put to several tests, but that's nothing compared to the peril that awaits them as their brushes with the criminal underworld come back to haunt them.
Seen today, Pals is a priceless snapshot of teen life in Spain including the burgeoning video game culture, the casual network of drug dealers ranging from older adults to very underage kids, and life on the streets where impromptu guitar numbers help pass the time away from stressful home lives. As with the director's other quinqui films there's a lot of casual nudity and frankness here (including some comedy relief involving the masturbatory habits of José's brothers and a candid treatment of abortion), though there actually isn't much sex at all in the film. There's also a smart focus on the social divisions between classes, with José's family seen as "trash" by his friends' parents which leads to the film's wildest melodramatic high point during a hallway parental showdown. All three of the leads are very good and convincing in their roles, with the nonprofessional Manzano once again proving his ease in front of the camera. Sadly both he and Antonio Flores would die of drug overdoses in the first half of the '90s, which gives the film more of a bittersweet edge than it already had at the time.
Unavailable anywhere on video for many years, Pals popped up on Blu-ray and DVD in Spain from Divisa in 2015, looking infinitely better than the soft, dark VHS tape but only featuring a Spanish-language track with no subtitle options or extras. In 2022, Altered Innocence finally brought the film back to the U.S. with an English-subtitled Blu-ray including a limited 1,100-unit slipcover edition. The transfer is identical to the Divisa one down to the pixel, which is fine since that one was crisp and colorful while retaining the somewhat rough and gritty look of the original film. The DTS-HD MA Spanish 2.0 mono track is also satisfying. A newly-created American trailer is also included (the Spanish one and the amusing, Pac-Man-heavy original U.S. one from '87 are MIA), plus bonus trailers for L.A Plays Itself; The Fred Halsted Collection, Arrebatos, Wild Tigers I Have Known, and Sound and Fury.
Reviewed on January 24, 2021