5 Days of Platino #1 – Conducta (2014)

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Welcome everyone to an impromptu new series that will take place yearly, just like the 10 Days of Oscar, we’re talking about the 5 Days of Platino. The Platino Awards are the Oscars of Hispanic American films, with movies from Spain and Latin America being considered for the awards of Best Film, Best Director, and practically every other category. Here we follow the tradition of the Oscars reviewing the films that are nominated for Best Film, but since there are only 5 nominated films, we shall only review 5 (au contraire with the Oscars where we review 10 since the year that it got expanded to 10 films, and we’ve followed suit by reviewing every nominated film plus the most nominated films not nominated for best film). The films nominated for best picture this year are ‘Conducta’ (2014), ‘La isla mínima’ (2014), ‘Mr. Kaplan’ (2014), ‘Pelo Malo’ (2013) and ‘Relatos salvajes’ (2014). Still, there’s a problem, the third film in this list isn’t readily available. There is a screening of the film in my country this Tuesday and I don’t know if I’ll make it, but in the case that I don’t, I already have a plan B with the film that received the most nominations that wasn’t nominated for best film, so, if that happens, you’ll know what that is. So, I do hope you continue reading and comment and all!

by Jaime Grijalba.

Cuban cinema has seen better days. No matter how much people try to say it doesn’t affect it, the current regime of Cuba does affect the quality of the films that come out, and I’m not strictly talking about censorship, in fact, it would never cross my mind to think of the Cuban regime as one that would censor the activities of those against it (let’s all remember that one of the most outspoken critics of the Castro communist regime is a blogger that lives in Cuba, blogs without any control, and travels around the world criticizing Cuba only to then go back to the country where she was born to continue blogging about how shitty the situation is there… when was the last time that you saw an oppressive regime allowing its most heard and vocal critic back once and again into their country? But I digress…), but to the fact that there are only two possible movies that can be made: those that support the government and what it stands for, and those that are against it, and thus makes it for a very boring climate of constant confrontation where mostly since the debate is still so important and urgent regarding the good and the bad of the Castro’s and how they’ve run the country since the revolution, that the statements that the filmmakers make are blunt, obvious and sometimes cringe-worthy, whenever the place where they come from, specially from the most popular films and those that make the rounds in festivals around the world.

I still think that ‘Memorias del subdesarrollo’ (1968) is one of the smartest films ever made, not only in Cuba, but in the world, because not only it goes beyond that constant back-and-forth (and merely a few years after the revolution) but it also addresses both points of view and gives them a fair shake, all this while making an entertaining and highly artistic film. ‘Conducta’, sadly, isn’t a smart film, as it doesn’t go beyond, as it only tries to gather an emotion from the viewer through the spectacle of the poverty and the overall tone of condemnation towards the people that have made this country what it is now, a highly unapologetic tone that struggles to even come near the point of being agreeable in any sense and just drops some supposedly emotional speeches that are better suited for the rallies that the before mentioned Castro critic has in posh hotels around the world. There is, nevertheless, a really interesting element in this movie that completely saves this from being a disposable piece of trash that no one should even dare to comment on, and that is the performances and acting choices from the main cast: an ensemble of kids and adults that play wonderfully inside their speeches and actions what they should, and they work perfectly in the mindset that the director had for the film that he set out to do. Seeing these kids speak the way that they do and react through their eyes is a wonder, as the work with kids can go wrong so hard so easy for any number of reasons, and the fact that the director managed to salvage these performances is a miracle, specially in the context of Cuba and this movie, an anti-government movie.

So, the film takes place mostly in the context of a classroom, where our protagonist is an 11-year old kid who is among the most problematic due to the fact that his mother isn’t always present to teach him enough lessons (and much about the character is, dully, charged on his upbringing and her mother’s drug addiction) and due to the fact that he earns his living catching dogs so they can fight each other in the illegal dog fights that happen in the dwellings of La Havana. All this ambient brings the child to be violent with his schoolmates and thus being menaced into being thrown into “conduct school” (hence the name of the film), where he is more tightly restricted, like a jail for small children where they get what they deserve for the evil they’ve done, or at least that’s the scary way in which the film portrays the place. It is his relation with his teacher, an old lady that isn’t afraid to speak up against everything that is wrong around her, that saves him from this constant failing into conduct problems, but her health is deteriorating and thus misses the ways in which she can help him and puts him in danger. Sounds like a promising enough premise, but the film handles it very poorly and drags through most of its length and only becomes interesting when it decides that it wants to explore more of the relationship between the kids that are the same age instead of the relation between the kid and all the adult figure that supposedly shape him on what he will be in the future.

In many ways, and no matter how hard this movie was to make, it is conceptually lazy, as it constructs a portrait of a small kid that wants to be universal, but in the end it only amounts to “look at all the perspectives and ways of living, you can do good and you can do bad, and the boy just has to choose”, while I think that the most adventurous and character-growing elements of the whole thing, as well as the best scenes in the movie, are when he is alone or with his friends, trying to come up with a mischief or a way to get out of the situation in which he seems so fixated on turning around once and again, failing miserably every time. It is through the chemistry and the acting of the ensemble cast of kids that this movie rings true, more than any political statement done by the old and supposedly wise teacher, as well as the way that the director wants to tell us “important stuff that is important” that should supposedly leave a mark on us but it just won’t move us in any particular way. A weak movie, saved by its performances, that must ring true because they are true.

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