5DoP #3 – Pelo malo (2013)

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This day supposedly would have a review of the film ‘Mr. Kaplan’ (2014), but I wasn’t able to attend the screening that was scheduled, thus I’ve been left with a film that was nominated for 2 Premios Platino without a best picture nomination, but since we do this series is in alphabetical order, we won’t review it today, as it’s not its turn yet, those curious enough will end up knowing in time what’s the film, but for the rest it’s a surprise.

by Jaime Grijalba.

I don’t really know much about the status of Venezuelan Cinema, and I guess that should be taken care of after seeing this particular film, that I had heard good things about from a certain majority of critics since its original screening in 2013 at the Toronto International Film Festival, but it wasn’t released in its home country until 2014 and thus became eligible for the Premios Platino, which is the occasion that has joined us this time and has made me possible to watch this movie, that had been disregarded in some circles as fluff, maybe and mainly because of its status in its home country as a subvert kick to the politics that were being carried out by Chávez and his successors. Nevertheless, there is an emphasis here on the story, more than in any kind of statement or superior metaphor (or maybe it’s so ingrained that it doesn’t really matter), as what moves the director, Mariana Rondón, is what she perceives as a toxic point of view in the masculinity of Venezuela, their people and how its maintained throughout history and families mainly because of ignorance, intolerance and a lack of viewing to what the world has achieved. Unlike what we could see in the Cuban film ‘Conducta’ (2014), here any criticism is veiled behind pure performance and cinematic grammar that works for the benefit of the premise and the story that is being told, it can attack an ideology and even a country that I respect, and still find its way to my heart.

It’s curious to see how political the films have been so far in this new series of reviews, as if there was an interest by the Premios Platino to achieve some sort of cultural relevance through the spotlight of diverse political thinking (we could see that the postures of this film and the Cuban one are similar, and while not entirely contrarian, it is different than to the one presented in the Spanish film ‘La isla mínima’ (2014), for what it’s worth), and the next films will continue on that trend, but it begs to ask the question: isn’t the blatant show and tell of political struggles in Latin America (and Spain) an easy way of getting attention while highly entertaining and yet still deep works can be nominated for an Oscar (please don’t laugh, I’m being serious)? I guess we still need to voice out our concerns and I must say that I am a firm believer that every film is politic into some extension and those who refuse to touch the subject are the worst films imaginable, but in many ways we lack “fun”, if there’s a word for it. The only film that defies that experience is the one that will be reviewed tomorrow, and it still manages to portray some very interesting and polarizing political postures. What I’m trying to say is that maybe ‘Pelo malo’ would’ve been an even better movie if it had ditched the more obvious political elements and went straight for a continuing sense of toxic ambient that can be felt in this movie through the isolated and inclosed spaces where the characters inhabit, an illusion that is broken too easily and quick whenever we are given context to what’s happening outside the apartment (in this case, the cancer of Hugo Chávez and his impending death).

The movie stars a small kid, the first born of a woman struggling to get a job as a guard (she is dismissed in most places just because she is a woman), all this while they fight over and over again on one issue: the messy and fuzzy hair of his son. He likes to comb it and to straighten it, to no avail, and thus he is obsessed with his looks and asks around to many people for ways to wet his hair to make it look good for his mother, he calls it his bad hair, that he loves to wear around, but it’s the constant fighting between he and his mother what produces the meatier aspects of the movie as well as the more interesting in terms of how their relation represents a retrograde thinking of the society of Venezuela: the mother constantly thinks that his son is gay and thus goes to the doctor, as if they could help, and commits several disgusting and appalling acts that still feel real in the context in which they live in, as if her desperate attempts only damage more and more their relation as well as the feelings that they have for each other. Maybe the most hurting scene is towards the end as the mother makes a decision that will make an ever-lasting scar on his kid, and to avoid, it’s the kid himself that must take care of it and thus break the way that they relate to each other forever.

The film redefines beauty in the context of the slums in which it takes place, and while it doesn’t glorify in its poverty, it does use it to achieve scenes and a scenery that would otherwise never be seen. One of the simplest and yet most impressive scenes in the movie features the kid and a girl friend, both looking out the window of their apartment all the way to the other building, where two kids are also watching out towards them, playing the same game as them, guessing other people’s lives, and what, in the end, is cinema but the opportunity of taking a peek towards a life that we might not know about otherwise? An interesting and powerful film, and one with a subject matter that is troubling in a society that seems to not only hate gays, but also women.

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