A Thief's Daughter

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

A Thief's Daughter
"As character studies go, it's familiar ground but Funes succeeds in exploring it with some tenacity and strikes emotional chords without resorting to melodrama." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Life on the margins - of family and society - is explored in the feature debut of Belén Funes, a Dardenne brothers-style slice of life drama, which expands on a character she and co-writer Marçal Cebrian introduced in her first short Sara A La Fuga.

Sara (Greta Fernández in an emotionally dense performance that saw her share the acting prize at San Sebastian with Nina Hoss) is at 22, young and determined but also disadvantaged by circumstance that has left her trying to care for her baby as her partner Dani (Alex Monner) works away while also attempting to set up some sort of home that her younger brother (Tomas Martin) - currently in an orphanage - can share. Being self-sufficient only goes so far when you are reliant on a shared social security flat and other people to look after your child while you take on any job that comes your way, with that also fraught with questions regarding your use of a hearing aid.

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Insecurity is, by this point in her life, almost part of Sara's DNA - and is only magnified when she accidentally crosses paths with her estranged father Manuel (Greta's real-life father Eduard). What his crimes are against society are - like most of the backstory elements of this film - left undetailed, but it's evident that he has stolen a great portion of Sara's childhood thanks to his behaviour. What follows is a multiple-layered tug of love, as Sara struggles with her ambivalence towards her father at the same time as trying to stop him from taking full control of her brother's destiny.

As character studies go, it's familiar ground but Funes succeeds in exploring it with some tenacity and strikes emotional chords without resorting to melodrama. She achieves this by ensuring her camera sticks with her best asset - Greta Fernández - at almost every moment, so that we capture every moment of Sara's experience. The holding back of information borders on the underwritten in places and a little more embellishment of how the past has come to influence the present would be welcome, but this nevertheless a solid debut from a director who knows how to keep her focus.

Reviewed on: 07 Oct 2019
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A Thief's Daughter packshot
When a woman's father reappears on the scene after a spell in prison, she has a difficult choice to make.

Festivals:

SSFF 2019
London 2019

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