Friday, 7 January 2011

Abel - Filmhouse - 7/1/11

Much was made about the performances of Chloe Moretz, Elle Fanning, Codie Smits McPhee and other young actors in big budget Hollywood movies last year...rightly so as they gave fine, fine performances in, at times, very challenging films.  However, the performance of Christopher Ruiz-Esparza will, in all likelihood, pass by without a mention which is a crime as he is easily the match of his English language peers.  Playing the eponymous "Abel" he is totally convincing as the young boy who returns home a mute after two years in a psychiatric hospital, two years that coincide with the disappearance of his drunken father.  Upon returning home he decides to become the patriarch in the home; chastising his siblings Paul and Selene, admonishing his mother (who he now believes to be his wife), signing report cards, grilling boyfriends and more.

There are many laughs to be had from this scenario and first time director Diego Luna isn't afraid to deliver them but he never takes the easy option.  What I mean is that in the hands of some Hollywood hack this would be a gross out comedy with the "joke" being incest but Luna instead delivers something warmer, more natural, more honest and more convincing.  Set in a run down Mexican village where poverty is very real there is a gritty realism at play here too and Luna has done a wonderful job in marrying the humour and the reality.

When the families real father, Anselmo, returns the scene is set for things to return to "normal" but instead Abel asserts his new found authority and instead of an airbrushed happy families ending we are plunged into a world where ugly confrontation looms large.  When that confrontation eventually arrives it leads to the lives of all the central players returning to where they had been at the films start; Abel is back in hospital and mute, his mother is at home raising two children and trying to support them, his father returns to his mistress.  Despite the laughs there is an air of hopelessness at the films end.

At its heart "Abel" is really a film about fathers.  That young Abel makes a better fist of being the man about the house than his errant father says much about a world where it isn't uncommon to see young men fathering myriad children but being a father to none of them.  Through a childs eyes we also see what really makes a "relationship" work; being there and being consistent.  It is this ability of a child to make a better job of being an adult that elevates "Abel" from being a comedy drama and into the position of being a social manifesto.

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