Pelo Malo – Movie Review by Frank L.
Directed by Mariana Rondon
Writer: Mariana Rondón
Stars: Samuel Lange Zambrano, Samantha Castillo, Beto Benites
Marta lives in a grubby apartment in Caracas (Venezuela). It is one of a large number of apartments of the exact same dimensions which form a vast, relentless block of windows and recessed balconies of a nightmarish architectural symmetry. There are other similar blocks in close proximity to underscore the brutalism of it all. They are an attempt to provide housing for those who are economically struggling at best. In this warren of concrete and glass, Marta (Samantha Castillo) lives with her son Junior ( Samuel Lange Zambrano) aged nine, and her baby. The father of these two children does not appear but the grandmother Carmen (Nelly Ramos) does. Carmen and Junior have a rapport, which he does not have with his mother. Marta splits her energies between striving to stay financially afloat, doting on the baby and having casual sex with the odd guy and occasionally her boss, in order to keep her job. She is more or less powerless but is trying to keep going.
However the story is seen from the side of Junior who hates his magnificent crop of black curly hair. He longs for straight hair like the guys who sing the pop songs, which Carmen teaches him. Marta fears for her son’s sexuality and is particularly suspicious of his closeness to an adolescent fruit seller who has a stall at the foot of their apartment block. Junior is buffeted between these various forces, while trying to make an existence for himself and to realise his dream of having straight hair.
Although there is very little of intrinsic beauty portrayed within the cinematography, the grim gargantuan apartment block (it echoes the German photographer Andreas Gursky’s Montparnasse) underlines the enormity of scale that the inhabitants of these edifices have to grapple with everyday. They are little people and the accommodation in which they are forced to live reminds them of their powerlessness. This is the world in which Marta, Junior and Carmen are subjected and in which they have to create their lives and try against everything to live some sort of dream. As Junior is the youngest of the three and likely the most innocent, he gets closest to a dream but reality is incessantly lurking close by.
Pelo Malo is far from an easy film, but it does show in gritty realism the harshness of life of the urban poor in Venezuela. It shows it unvarnished and for that clarity of vision it is to be praised.