Saturday, December 5, 2009

SCN: Marc Recha's LITTLE INDI -- just a boy and his bird. And fox. And family.

LITTLE INDI's an odd one. This movie by Marc Recha (shown below) begins with the kind of charming and bright animated credits that might lead us to imagine a sweet film about Spain's country folk. That's not quite what we get. Instead we're in the Catalunya countryside where times are tough. Though the movie's pace is unhurried, everyone is quietly scrambling for whatever money they can bring in. The cops are on the take, as is the staff of the prison where the mother of our teenage hero Arnau cur-
rently resides. Arnau is played with aloofness and quiet intensity by a spectacu-
larly gorgeous newcomer named Marc Soto (below). Are Spaniards the world's most beautiful men? It would seem so from the first few films in this year's Spanish Cinema Now crop.

Arnau trains small birds to sing in the evidently well-known "Singing Finches of Catalunya" competition. He's good at it, too. Surrounded by a family that's only half there and that may be involved in things mildly nefarious -- Uncle (Sergi López), sister (Eulalia Ramón), brother (Eduardo Noriega, shown below) and so on -- Arnau moves between them all with deliberation and hesitation. It appears to him (and to us, in fact) that the system is raked toward the rich, so this young man is trying to raise money to pay for a lawyer to get mom out of jail. But given his nodding acquaintance with the world and how it works, he seems doomed to fail.

As co-writer (with Nadine Lamari) and director, Recha likes to show rather than tell, which is generally fine. He pace is slow; incidents build up one by one. Chief among these is the greyhound racing that involves Arnau and his uncle -- and the near-dead fox Arnau finds at the river bank and nurses back to health. The director is particularly good at capturing the sad, almost frightening sense of vulnerability that hangs over the boy, the birds, the fox. With maturity might come the realization that you cannot blame nature's creations for simply being true to what they are. Arnau is not there yet, and so he does, and with this blame and anger comes the most unsettling scene in the film.

The widescreen images are well composed and lighted (cinema-
tography by the estimable Hélène Louvart: The Last Day, The Beaches of Agnes), and the sense of place and a time that, while it is now might just as well be eternal, is specific and real. If I am not jumping up and down in praise and pleasure, it's because nobody on view is moving that actively or positively. To call Little Indi downbeat is to be very euphemistic. But yes, it does seem like life.

Little Indi screens at the Walter Reade on Saturday, December 5, at 1:30; Tuesday, December 8, at 1:30; and Wednesday,
December 9, at 8:30.

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