Saturday, December 19, 2009

THE SHAME, David Planell's parenting film, winds down Spanish Cinema Now

Parenting, respon-
sibility, guilt and growing up are among the several themes tackled by one of the best entries in this year's FSLC roster of Spanish Cinema Now, which draws to a close tomor-
row. THE SHAME (La Vergüenza), written (with the collaboration of Santos Mercero) and directed by David Planell (below), although it is tightly focused on a "family" of four (husband, wife, soon-to-be-perhaps-adopted child and the housekeeper/nanny), its breadth eventually reaches out to include a large por-
tion of society, from public utilities to social services.

That Señor Planell is able to accomplish this within the time frame of a single day makes his movie even more impressive. It seems a "normal" day yet contains almost everything that will decide this family's fate. How the filmmaker connects his people and events is artful and smart, with almost no dependence upon coincidence and everything instead proceeding from character and need. The one symbolic moment of decision and release might seem too much -- were it not for the possibilities remaining for both good and bad to come out of this latest turn of events (including the turn of a faucet).

Opening with the clock radio informing us of "the death of four workers, with an investigation pointing to" -- and then Mom turns the radio off. Not that this investigation would ever lead to anything concrete. What is concrete is that Dad finds himself in the middle of a shower when the water goes off -- for the third time in a month. That, and the family's Peruvian maid (above right), who, it appears, has been stealing. Or not. Most concrete of all is Manu, the young boy with some severe behavioral problems that this twosome may soon permanently adopt.

A dental appointment, a report due for school, a birthday party, money and a wristwatch gone missing, lunch to be made without any water, the glue needed for a chair repair, and a scheduled visit from the social worker (above, right) in charge of the adoption: All these sound like juggling pins to be kept aloft in some kind of farce. But in the hands of Planell, they become part of a wonderfully rich day of discovery and change.

The Shame is the kind of movie in which everyone is trying his best -- and failing -- with the responsibility that of both the individual and the system. Trying to make up for past mistakes, while commendable, does not seem particularly productive. And deceit seems necessary but equally unproductive. Planell has created his movie in nearly real time, with events telescoped only slightly and the up-close camera work lending a documentary feel to the events that we witness.

The cast of (basically) five -- mom, dad, son, social worker and nanny -- is peopled with actors who seem especially attuned to the needs of this story. As the father, Alberto San Juan (above, right), last seen in SCN two years ago in Under the Stars and Casual Day, is one of Spain's leading men most fearless about emotions and the showing of them. Everything -- from his sudden temper to tears, fears and joy -- is within San Juan's reach. As Mom, Natalia Mateo (above, left) offers an intriguing combination of need, aggression and protection, as she negotiates the Scylla and Charybdis of her husband and the social worker. In the pivotal role of the maid and nanny, Norma Martínez (below, left) is especially strong and effective, never more so than when, at last, she can let her hair down, symbolically and for real. As the troubled youngster, newcomer Brandon Alexander Lastra Cobos (below, right and just above, who will shorten that name soon, no doubt) is very good at remaining a mystery, even as we slowly warm up to the kid.

As much as everything has changed by the end of the movie, nothing is wrapped up, let alone with any neat bow. Life will go on, all right, but there are plenty more changes in store for this "family," including its fish. How will things turn out? This is the movie's strength: It sets up the problem, initiates as much growth as might be possible with these particular characters, and then adds a dash -- and only that -- of hope.

The Shame plays once more only: tonight, Saturday, December 19, at 8:30 -- at the Walter Reade Theater.

No comments: