Pelo Malo (Bad Hair)
Courageous Venezuelan drama from Mariana Rondón gives us a child's-eye-view
Childhood can be seen as a fight between a child and its parents for control of the child's identity, and for the right to decide their path. Taking this idea as a starting point, Pelo Malo (Bad Hair) turns a home into a battleground. From writer-director Mariana Rondón it's a film about the dreams of an innocent being crushed by prejudice and cruel circumstance – a charming, often unflinching portrait of a young boy struggling to blossom in an oppressive environment. The recipient of numerous international awards is notable for its insight and refreshing lack of sentimentality.
Nine-year-old Junior (the astonishingly natural newcomer Samuel Lange) is growing up in a vast, impoverished housing estate in Caracas, Venezuela, one of thousands crowded into the colourful yet chaotic space. Establishing who you are in such stifling and competitive circumstances is challenge enough, but Junior's obsession with singing and straightening out his tight curls has left his stressed-out single mother Marta (Samantha Castillo) fearing that he's weird and, what's worse in her mind, gay.
If his mother's personal hardships are portrayed sympathetically (not least due to Castillo's subtle, compelling performance as a woman long out of options, optimism and patience) what Rondón has given us here is a child's-eye-view; we're on the side of Junior as Marta's dark moods and paranoid parenting threaten to destroy him, and what at first seems like tough love begins to look like a total absence of it.
Pelo Malo is a compassionate and courageous film that tells a story specific and sensitive to its environment, but which also contains universal truths about parent-child antagonism and growing up. Rondón gets the balance spot on, refusing to be bogged down by the dire predicament while creating something never less than credible.
Selected release from Fri 30 Jan.