In Review: Bad Hair

by Maryann O'Connor on 30/01/2015

pelo malo

Writer/Director Mariana Rondón presents us with a searingly honest but charming portrait of a mother and her 9 year old son struggling to understand eachother in amongst the difficult situations of bereavement, poverty and all-pervading icon worship in Venezuela.

Junior (Samuel Lange) has a nine year old’s simple outlook on life; he wants his mother to love him, he wants plantains for breakfast so he can put on some weight for his school picture and he wants his pelo malo (bad hair) straightened. His mother Marta (Samantha Castillo) is preoccupied with trying to get her job back and finding childcare for Junior and ‘the baby’ which must be found even before she can go and beg for her job back. Marta thinks she must show Junior how a man is supposed to be, in the absence of his deceased father, a course of action which shows up her weaknesses as a parent whatever her good intentions are.

The film is mostly set in a group of apartment blocks in Caracas, dense columns filled to bursting with a wide range of human life, an architect’s 1950s project bearing the ironically shit name ‘Utopian City’. The way the children spend their lives in this scenario will be familiar to many who grew up in the inner city concrete landscape; dancing in the endless corridors of the blocks and longingly watching the bigger kids play football in a cage.

The attention to the detail of Marta and Junior’s lives is microscope-close. Rondón painstakingly lays out Marta’s struggle to provide and do right by her two sons; endless bus trips, visits to Marta’s work, childminders, Junior’s grandmother where she desperately tries to find a way to make it all work. Marta is an extremely relatable character, especially for those neurotic parents who feel that a parenting handbook for real life would be awesome. She is also a woman, a person with her own desires outside parenthood, which is an aspect of female characters which often gets lost when they are playing ‘mother’.

The overriding impression left by this film is the heartbreaking reality that we are all a product of our surroundings. Even with best intentions, bombarded by constant imagery and expectations of one sort or another, we are destined to repeat many mistakes made by most who have gone before. Mariana Rondón has a brilliant talent for making the everyday struggle into a compelling watch and should be supported in every way possible.

Maryann has awarded Bad Hair (Pelo Malo) four Torches of Truth

4 torches

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