"It's an art ... it's a game ... it's a crime." That's the tag line for Thieves, which opened in Spain last month. Starring the very popular Juan José Ballesta (7 Virgins) and the lovely María Ballesteros (Princesses), the film opened against Shrek 3 (AKA Shrek Tercero) and was admittedly swamped by the green ogre. Breaking down the numbers, though, Thieves had a decent per-screen average. The reaction has been mixed on the Spanish-language sites I visited, with comments ranging from "very good" to "slow and pretentious" to "I'm so tired of this actor!" (referring to Ballesta).

When Thieves debuted at the Malaga film festival earlier this year, it won a jury award, though Jonathan Holland of Variety was not entirely positive: "Bringing an unexpected lyricism to a subject more accustomed to in-your-face treatment, Jaime Marques Olarreaga's Thieves unfolds the details of its artful young dodger's troubled mind with craft and flair, but only intermittently grips the emotions." Still, he singled out Ballesta's performance and thought it could "steal into Spain-friendly offshore arthouses, with fest play guaranteed." That latter prediction has come true: Cineuropa reports that Thieves will compete for the Golden Leopard award at the Locarno (Switzerland) festival in August.

Still in his teens, Ballesta became a star thanks to his work in television. He was very compelling as a troubled kid trying to stay out of trouble in 7 Virgins, for which he was nominated for a Goya Award. In Thieves, he plays a young man who was abandoned by his mother as a child; the only thing she taught him was how to steal. He puts those skills to work as a pickpocket. When he meets a middle-class girl dabbling in crime, he offers to team up with her. The versatile Patrick Bauchau plays a junk shop owner. The trailer looks promising; time will tell how far these thieves travel.