Tigers Are Not Afraid (Vuelven) (2017) [Ithaca Fantastik Film Festival 2017]

After her mother disappears, a young girl joins a group of street kids trying to survive in a world of violence, drugs, and gangs. Through stories and fairytales, they keep each other going.

Written and directed by Issa López, Tigers Are Not Afraid is a beautifully depressing, yet hopeful kind of film. It shows the very hard life of children whose families were victims of the drug or gang wars with a touch of whimsy as they tell themselves and each other fairytales, including a story where tigers are not afraid. These kids are shown as very human through her writing and the performance of López’s cast. Her writing and directing take a story that could have been schmaltzy or cheesy or just flat out brutal to watch and makes it an interesting watch. Her work here is a bit surreal in how she takes such a hard subject and makes it easier to digest. The way she weaves the story with fairytales, how she uses blood connections, how she creates young characters that the viewer wants to follow is downright magical.

The cast of young actors at the center of the film is fantastic, talented beyond their years and showing a natural ability for complex, deep characters. In the lead part of Estralla is Paola Lara who is amazing to watch. She takes her character and makes it hers in a way that it feels like she is Estrella, that the film is more life being film than her acting a script she was given. Her performance is stellar and should lead to many more to come. Her young age, and lesser experience than most adult actors, does not influence the performance at all, she works like a seasoned performer and creates a character that is clearly coming from her heart and soul. Watching her is easy and fascinating. Playing the boys Estralla joins are a band of rag tag kids who all gives great performances with Hanssel Casillas as Tucsi making a lasting impression with his honesty and the depth of his acting. These kids are central to the story and their casting is clearly perfect with each of them giving a performance worth checking out and that will be remembered for a long time.

The cinematography by Juan Jose Saravia makes great use of what light is available when living on the street and uses those with the darkness in many scenes to give the film a dark, yet not exactly gloomy look. His work frames the performances and the story in a way that feels un-intrusive, natural, and a bit like a fly on the wall watching the story develop. The way this is done works perfectly with the special effects that are used sparingly to create the fairytale effects throughout the film as well as something that won’t be spoiled here but is used in a way that connects everything. These visual effects done under supervisors Juan Carlos Lepe and Raul Prado are good, a few scenes of them are not great, but in general they work and are used in small doses while mostly in the dark, which helps them work.

Tigers Are Not Afraid is beautiful and depressing, effective with a honest brutality to it while giving the story what it needs to come through and resonate with just about anyone. It’s honest and brutal; it makes one think and makes them glad for where they grew up while also wanting to see how to help these kids. The performances from the young cast count for a lot in this as they are natural and heavily talented, way past their young years. Tigers Are Not Afraid is absolutely, heartbreakingly beautiful and darkly whimsical, a twisted, real world fairytale that grabs the audience and doesn’t let them go until the very end.

Ithaca Fantastik Film Festival 2017 ran from November 3rd to 12th, 2017.