Coming of age varies depending on where you’re growing up. In the cities, the barrios, the projects, it’s less a journey than a run through a gauntlet.

Even in the suburbs it’s a painful road to walk.

If you’re like the the 14-year-old Rosina (Romina Bentancur), who wears loneliness like a summer T-shirt and dominates Lucia Garibaldi’s debut feature, “The Sharks,” it can be like walking through the desert of teen life, looking for love’s water, the touch of a loving hand.

Here in a beachside town in Uruguay, lovingly captured by German Nocella’s camera, where there is little to do before the meager tourist season begins, Rosina walks away the hot summer days working for her father, a landscaper.

Early on, we learn that Rosina has had a shoving fight with her sister that slightly damages the sister’s eye, and this sets her even farther apart from the family life.

Her mother spends her day cooking, chatting on her iPhone, tending to the needs of her family and dreaming of creating a beauty parlor of her own.

With little for Rosina to do, she walks the white, sandy beaches with a headful of sun-baked dreams.

This summer, some excitement centers around the sighting of what appears to be a shark, a rumor that could shrink the meager tourist trade.

Rosina, desperate to have attention of any kind, was the first to spot the mysterious dorsal fin in the water, and she uses it to draw attention to herself. Is it really a shark or another of Rosina’s tricks?

Of course, in every hot summer, there is for a girl, a boy. And here we have Joselo (an excellent Federico Morosini), one of her father’s workers. Joselo is an older boy of limited knowledge of his work, his country, of girls. He is a “guy” who smokes, drinks the occasional beer and shares erotic fantasies with his friends.

Joselo is a master of the leer and the touch, and he has favorites; but out here on the beach, where the older girls spend time in the dunes sharing gossip, making up sexual stories, and wiping sand from their cellphones, Joselo is too scruffy and sweaty to be touched.

So while chopping brush and raking debris, Joselo lets his eyes drift to pouty and withdrawn teenage Romina.

For her part, Romina, in the early electric charges of sex, is aroused by Joselo.

He leads her on, invites her to the work shed after dark, and tries to teach her to masturbate with him.

“Touch yourself,” he says, over and over. She never takes her eyes from him but refuses to play the game. She has learned from listening to the older girls that there are rules to this game, but they are written in a code beyond her comprehension. The throb deep inside her confuses her, and she grows even colder around him and her family.

When he tires of trying to seduce her, he pushes her away; and now, with the added pain of rejection, she spends her days and nights devising mean little tricks to draw him back, the nastiest of which is kidnapping and hiding his pregnant dog.

But the most dangerous game she plays occurs to her in the last scenes, when she hears from the older workers ways to attract the shark so that they can slay it.

The final game she plays involves Joselo’s fragile fishing boat and material to lure the shark. It’s a dangerous game, and when she walks up the beach away from it, with Joselo now in the water, her eyes glisten and give us a shading of the immortal Gioconda smile.

All the actors involved seem real enough to have been recruited from the beach by writer-director Lucia Garibaldi, whose debut film is garnering much attention in the industry.

But it is young Bentancur we remember, who floats through the film completely in control of the story. We look forward to her next smile and next trick.

 

J.P.  Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

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