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Sundance Film Review: The Cinema Hold Up (Asalto Al Cine)

by Ulises Silva

The Cinema Hold Up
Directed by Iria Gómez Concheiro

The Bottom Line: A somber but engaging, powerful examination of four Mexico City teenagers whose self-destructive tendencies speak volumes about the failing social systems surrounding them.

There’s a moment in the film when the main character, Negus (Gabino Rodríguez), is drawing up detailed schematics of the local megaplex cinema with an engineer’s precision. His friend Chale (Juan Pablo de Santiago) has tried getting into the prestigious Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Their friend Sapo (Ángel Sosa) is a gifted hip-hop musician. At night, they are graffiti artists, their tour de force a richly detailed mural that fuses traditional Mexican and urban artistic styles.

Yet the three friends, along with La Chata (Paulina Avalos), are bored, apathetic teenagers who spend most of their waking moments getting high and loitering aimlessly around Mexico City’s gritty Guerrero neighborhood.

It’s a poignant dichotomy in Ira Gómez Concheiro’s feature-length directorial debut, The Cinema Hold Up, a movie that’s less about a heist and more an indictment of the failing social apparatuses that leave young, intelligent Mexicans without the means to constructively develop their talents.

The slow narrative tempo of the film’s opening act matches the sullen indifference of its four nihilistic protagonists. It paints a somber portrait of youthful self-destruction within a larger context of social and familial dysfunction. It’s a harsh world with no refuge: in the streets, corrupt cops harass the four kids for bribes; at home, Negus’ mother has eyes only for her TV and his loser big brother. For all of Negus, Chale, Sapo, and Chata’s self-indulgent aimlessness, it’s clear that society and family dysfunction are complicit in their faults and enabling their crippling indifference.

So it’s ironic that when the four teens decide the solution to their problems is heisting the local megaplex, their aimless lives suddenly have focus and purpose. With eerily professional precision, they map out their plan, even if a personal revenge factor against the cinema’s security detail—and the social order they represent—never seems far from their minds. And when they set their plan into motion, we vicariously accompany the would-be robbers on a thrilling, heart-pounding heist, experiencing firsthand the trembling nerves of their fumbling amateurishness, and the catharsis of its unexpected conclusion.

But for director Iria Gómez Concheiro, the film isn’t really about the heist. It’s about the failing social systems entrapping her four bright but misguided youngsters. It’s an indictment of the failure of Mexican society to provide constructive, legitimate means—through education, creative institutions, and stronger familial support—to harness the talent of its youth. As the film descends into its unexpected consequences, and as dreams and short-lived ambitions fall back into the same failed system, it’s evident that the characters’ problems were never really about money, but about creating outlets for their frustrations and talents. Outlets that are simply not provided in a reality where even mercy—whether at the hands of a domineering mother or a neighborhood thug—doesn’t come without a steep price.

The Cinema Hold Up features gripping performances from its cast, many of them newcomers who, like Concheiro, immersed themselves in the Guerrero neighborhood for months before shooting. They, along with the film’s vibrant cinematography and hip-hop soundtrack, render an intimate, complex portrait of a slice of Mexico City subculture. The film pulls you in with its gritty fictionalization about a very non-fictional reality, and asks aloud how many bright minds like Negus are eroding in obscurity, restrained by apathy and corruption from making positive contributions to society.

The Cinema Hold Up is currently screening at the Sundance Film Festival. For more information, visit


the Cinema Hold Up got an extra screening. If you’re at Sundance, check it out!

Saturday, January 29, 2:15pm – Holiday Village Cinema


To learn more about Ulises,


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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