Monday, December 10, 2018

An actor films his mom in Gustavo Salmerón's doc, LOTS OF KIDS, A MONKEY AND A CASTLE

If you're not hooked by the end of the opening speech/request/tirade by the protagonist of LOTS OF KIDS, A MONKEY AND A CASTLE -- Julita Salmerón, a one-woman whirlwind of narcissism and bravado whom her son, Gustavo Salmerón (one of those "lots of kids" mentioned in the film's title) has profiled in his new documentary -- then perhaps this film will not be for you. Julita's opening foray, all about what to do with her body, once her family believes her to have died, is so bizarre and funny, frightened yet controlling, that TrustMovies was
hooked completely by this ode to one of the more brazen and compelling uber mamas that the movies have so far given us.

Señor Salmerón, pictured at left and above, is one of Julita's six children, all of whom we meet and get to know to some small extent (her husband Antonio proves the figure about whom we learn the second most), in a movie that is made up of the pronouncements and world view of its leading lady -- a hoarder par excellence, of whose hoard we also learn a lot, especially where bones and teeth are concerned.

The Spanish Civil War figures prominently into things, and to the filmmaker's credit, he does not at all try to hide which side Julita and her family (her husband's, too) were on during this landmark and still hugely divisive conflict.

From the look of the movie, filmmaker Salmerón spent a good long time (more than a dozen years, it turns out) filming his mom and family and pouring over a ton of archival photos, along with other objects from Julita's hoard (she's shown above and below, left, with Antonio), each of which seems to spark a new memory and outlet for yet another rant or two.

Julita is a born performer and clearly always has been, and her energy helps carry the movie easily along. You can enjoy her hugely, even as you may find yourself extremely grateful that she is somebody's else's mother and not yours. (Her explanation of how and why she could not really love her children hurts.)

The filmmaker moves back and forth in time, depending on the subject at hand, but you'll have no trouble determining what time frame you're in -- due to Julita's ever aging face and the excess weight she keeps putting on. (Her love affair with food provides one of the funnier and more trenchant threads that her son weaves into his film.)

The doc also sports a menagerie of animals: a pig (above), that titular monkey (below), peacocks, cats, and more. Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle draws its name from what, as a young woman, Julita decided would make her life complete. Well, she certainly had those kids, and though the monkey didn't last long, she even got that castle, too. Despite her protestations of not being rich, it soon becomes clear that her own family was well enough off, while her husband's was a lot more than that.

Still, it is one thing to buy a castle but quite another to be able to afford to live in it long-term. The worldwide financial crisis of 2008-09 hit Spain as badly as perhaps anywhere except Greece, and the Salmeróns lost their castle, and even saw their adult children have to move back in with them.

The times may have been heavy going but the movie seldom is. It bubbles along on the nut-case narcissism and self-delusion of its heroine who manages to somehow avoid taking responsibility for things, even when she sounds most like she just about might be willing to do this.

Toward the end of the documentary, she tells her filmmaker son that this will never be a successful movie and then lists all the things a successful movie needs. She leaves out, however, the single most important requisite -- an amazing star performer -- which Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle has, and in spades.

The movie, winner of Spain's Goya award for Best Documentary, as well as other awards internationally, opened in Los Angeles this past October, and will hit New York City (at the Cinema Village) to qualify for this year's Oscar campaign on Friday, December 14.

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