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TIFF 2013 Review: Venezuela's 'Bad Hair' is A Bold, Gripping Drama

Shadow and Act By Vanessa Martinez | Shadow and Act September 7, 2013 at 9:54PM

Mariana Rondon’s bold and intelligently perceptive film Bad Hair isn’t really about hair, whether it is straight or coarse; but about Junior (Samuel Lange), a boy who doesn’t fit society’s conventional mold within gender roles, especially not in the world of his already overwhelmed and weary mother, who suspects that her son – who has distinct tastes and flair - has begun to show signs of homosexuality. Junior’s desire and fixation to envision himself as a straight-haired singer is perhaps – to his mother’s unrelenting scorn - an escape from reality and the only thing he can really control in his unique world.
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Samuel Lange (Junior) & Nelly Ramos (grandmother) in a still from 'Bad Hair'
Samuel Lange (Junior) & Nelly Ramos (grandmother) in a still from 'Bad Hair'

Mariana Rondon’s bold and intelligently perceptive film Bad Hair isn’t really about hair, whether it is straight or coarse; but about Junior (Samuel Lange), a boy who doesn’t fit society’s conventional mold within gender roles, especially not in the world of his already overwhelmed and weary mother, who suspects that her son – who has distinct tastes and flair - has begun to show signs of homosexuality.  Junior’s desire and fixation to envision himself as a straight-haired singer is perhaps – to his mother’s unrelenting scorn - an escape from reality and the only thing he can really control in his unique world.

In an impressively directed and photographed opening scene, which stages a portrait of their environment, Junior and a young female neighbor, who is his only friend, play "I spy" through an apartment balcony, identifying neighbors in their complex from all walks of life: a woman talking to herself; a black man; a woman sitting on the balcony waiting for her son like she usually does; a graffiti which reads “I love you,” and a couple of kids playing; “Do you think they are having more fun than us?” the girl asks Junior.

Meanwhile his mother Marta, who’s trying to find a job in a bleak and stressful urban working class economy in Venezuela, doesn’t have the resources to foster her peculiar child’s imagination or provide adequate emotional support. She already lacks monetary funds for Junior to get his picture taken, and the more he begins hiding in bathrooms and experimenting with any household oil and grease he can get his hands on, the more conflicted his relationship with his mother becomes.

Samantha Castillo (Marta) & Samuel Lange (Junior)
Samantha Castillo (Marta) & Samuel Lange (Junior)

Junior is an astute child, who’s very aware and empathetic of his mother’s distress and daily struggles. It’s heartrending to watch Junior trying to appease and seek her attention: he helps out feeding the baby; he sets the table; he gazes at her longingly, even when she rejects him. The situation signals a turn for the worse when Marta takes the advice of Junior’s doctor – who sees nothing wrong with him – literally, to unconscionable lengths: Junior just doesn’t have a paternal figure, and should see his mother in a loving relationship with a man.

As tensions run high and the drama unfolds, Junior, who has been finding solace with his very encouraging black grandmother, must make a decision that will place him at odds with either his grandmother or his mother.

 Rondon’s enthralling Bad Hair certainly challenges your prejudices; your thoughts on Junior’s identity after watching this provocative and gripping film may very well be a reflection of such. That was director Rondon’s intentions, after all, accomplished with aplomb. Buoyed by instinctive performances (especially the powerful Samantha Castillo as Junior’s mother Marta) and an unnerving score, Bad Hair may just be this year’s festival foreign sleeper hit.

This article is related to: Reviews, Festival Dispatch


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