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Cristina and Simon are lovers on the lam, moving through the city with furtive, youthful grace, falling in love against a chaotic backdrop of crime, familial angst and their own youthful impulses.

If that sounds like a romance straight out of the French New Wave, it’s a testament to the edgy energy that abounds in “Days of the Whale,” an auspicious directorial debut from Catalina Arroyave Restrepo. Set in Medellin, Colombia, with the region’s storied drug kingpins as convenient villains, this wispy but insistently compelling portrait of headstrong romance has energy and passion to burn.

Most of that spark emanates from Laura Tobón Ochoa, who plays Cristina with the twitchy nervousness of late adolescence. Her character is supposed to be attending college and packing for Spain, where her mother, a journalist, has moved to avoid death threats from the gangs. But Cristina would much rather roam around alleys and underpasses with her boyfriend Simon (David Escallón Orrego), tagging concrete walls with carefully planned cartoon images in vibrant, neon-bright colors.

Arroyave moves her camera in on those painting sessions, bringing viewers so close to the action that we can almost smell the wet paint. The graffiti that Cristina and Simon create, seemingly out of thin air, is often astonishingly beautiful and suffused with endearing innocence. Cristina, too, often looks like she’s going to burst out of the frame, her knee constantly jiggling, her face a welter of conflicting feelings.

Arroyave has situated her protagonists within a thin, schematic plot line, wherein the art collective that Cristina and Simon are part of is victimized by the local toughs (the film’s opening scene telegraphs one particularly predictable outcome). If that setup isn’t always convincing — and if a visual motif involving the titular creature feels too-arty-by-half — the movie is still impressive for its street-wise verve and observant intimacy. Propelled by a lyrical, pulsing soundtrack of Colombian rock, hip-hop and bolero, “Days of the Whale” is less a character study, or even a love story than a vibrant study in swirling perpetual motion.

Unrated. Available at afisilver.afi.com. Contains profanity, drug use and a sexual situation. In Spanish with subtitles. 80 minutes.