Cine Las Americas Review: Niñas Araña

Life in Chile's slums, close enough to wealth to touch it

Niñas Araña (Spider Thieves) follows three teenage girls who live in Toma de Peñalolén, known as the largest shanty town in Chile. The three girls long for the lives that belong to the “upper-class” Chileans living in Santiago – a city that looms over their community like an inaccessible paradise.

Propelled by their restlessness, the girls begin scaling the walls of the city’s massive apartment buildings, where they break into homes to experience what life with even moderate wealth can be like. Their exploits gradually earn media attention, until they are labeled “spider thieves.”

Like many teenagers, the girls feel stuck in their environment. One of the girls, Avi (Michelle Mella), compares her experience mired in poverty to a cartoon character running across a static landscape. No matter how much she tries to escape her life, she just ends up in the same place.

The film is anchored by its three lead performances. Each girl helps create empathy within the audience by portraying the frustration, confusion and longing that living in such poverty next to such affluence can harbor. Although we know they are committing crimes, we root for them, because we want their lives to be better.

Cine Las Americas International Film Festival ran May 2-6. For more on the festival, read "Not Just the Border," April 27.

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