Mexico, 2010, 83 minutes, Colour.
Christopher Ruiz- Esparza, Gerardo Ruiz- Esparza, Jose Maria Yazpik, Karina Gidi, Geraldine Alejandra.
Directed by Diego Luna.
A brief debut film from actor, Diego Luna, friend of Gael Garcia Bernal, who acts as one of the producers.
This is a modest film about a young boy with mental and behavioural problems seemingly caused by his father’s abandoning the family to work in the US and who is not heard from in two years and walks in on the problem and compounds it.
9 year old Abel (a persuasive performance from Christopher Ruiz- Esparza, whose younger brother in the film is his own real life brother – who is also persuasive) has been hospitalised and does not speak. The devoted mother agrees to his coming home in the hope that things could be normal and that he will speak. His younger brother is afraid of him. His older sister is annoyed with him much of the time. Abel watches television – and suddenly makes a breakthrough.
We realise before the family does that he has got it into his head that he is the father and the head of the family and acts the part. There is a lot of wry humour as we see this young boy aping strict and commanding patriarchal rule. Since the doctors advise not confronting or upsetting him, mother and children go along with it. In fact, he is a much better father than his actual father and the children thrive under his tutelage.
The film builds to an anxious climax – but leaves open how Abel is going to get along after he is returned to hospital.
Lots of contemporary Mexican flavour. A first film that Diego Luna can be pleased with and proud of.
1. A Mexican story, family and children? Mental illness?
2. The realism of the situations? The surrealism in Abel’s behaviour?
3. The background of the Mexican town, homes, poverty, roads and taxis, the baths, the hospital? Realism? The musical score?
4. The introduction to Abel, aged nine, in hospital, his breakdown, not talking? With his mother? With the doctors and staff? His mother’s visits and love?
5. The doctors and their advice, Fili as a friend? Abel going home, Paul fearing him, avoiding him in the playground? Selina as a fifteen-year-old, tolerant, intolerant, her angers, answering her mother? Not wanting to be a slave? Abel and his pills, able to sleep – and not sleep, watching television all night? Breaking the television?
6. The portrait of the mother, with her three children, poor, Anselmo abandoning them, her relationship with Regino? Two years of caring for Abel, visiting the hospital every day, love and protection? Home, busy about many tasks? Her work? Selling the TV, the VCR? Her concern about Selina and school? Paul and the squabbles in the family?
7. Abel and his change, beginning to talk, assuming the role of the father of the family, his patriarchal behaviour and demeanour, his being strict, language, body language, manner? With Cecilia, going to her room – and the story about the stork and their having a brother? With Selina, commenting on her marks from school, correcting her maths? Clemente and his admitting his mistakes after ousting him? Sending him messages in Selina’s name? Helping Paul with his drawings, playing with Paul, promising to teach him to swim? Everybody acting accordingly with him as head of the family? The improvement with Selina? Paul and his development?
8. The doctor, accepting the situation, advising them not to confront Abel? The visits, playing Snakes and Ladders, his amazement?
9. Anselmo’s arrival, Cecilia’s reaction? Abel in charge, dealing with Anselmo, the explanation that he was an uncle? The variety of gifts (and the picture of his new family on the mobile phone)? His being made to obey and conform?
10. Anselmo going out with Fili, their talking and drinking, the issue of relationships, Fili and Cecilia, Anselmo and his new family?
11. Abel and Paul, going for the swimming lesson, going through the rail tracks, on the wharf with the containers, searching, getting the taxi, the driver giving him a kiss and his not having to pay? The pool, stepping in the water, Paul on tiptoe, the sudden depth, the possibility of their drowning, the underwater photography? The family, gathering, the new doctor? In the cars, the crash, the police helping, arriving at the swimming pool, frantic, saving the boys?
12. Abel going to Mexico City, to the hospital, Fili and the doctor looking after him? With his mother – and his expression for a quizzical ending?