'The Fatherless' Is Well-Shot And Competent, But Little More
Announcing a great new voice in the world of cinema, Rosario Garcia-Montero's "The Bad Intentions" is a brilliant coming-of-age story that's funny, subtle, touching, and one of the best films of the year. Growing up in a bourgeois house in 1981 Lima, 8 year old Cayetana de la Heros spends a lot of time with herself. She is perhaps the most morose little girl seen on screen in a long time, idolizing Peruvian independence heroes from the past, focusing in particular on how they met their end. She finds out that her mother is pregnant with another child and somehow decides that the day the new child is born is the day she is going to die (she isn't planning suicide, she just thinks that this will inevitably happen).
The film succeeds on the shoulders of young actress Fatima Buntix who gives a beautifully natural performance. Buntix and Garcia-Montero make Cayetana a three-dimensional human being way beyond the Wednesday Addams shtick she could have easily been; even though she treats her mother badly most of the time, she can't resist singing a song on guitar with her. She idolizes her rambunctious father but doesn't hate her stepfather and has a wonderful relationship with her cousin, though, like any child, she can also be incredibly selfish, highlighted by an episode in which she places the blame for her actions on an innocent housekeeper.
Dream sequences are delved into sporadically at first but more frequently as the film goes on. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Rodrigo Pulpeiro with simple, poetic metaphors, like the rest of the "Bad Intentions" these moments have a wonderful sense of humor about themselves.
Lurking in the background of the story are the attacks of communist guerrilla group The Shining Path. The film could very well work as an allegory for feelings of ambivalence towards an uncertain future, but it's just another layer to the story, and even if you're not up on Peruvian history, there is still much to enjoy. Emphasizing humanism over politics, "Bad Intentions" impresses and the final scene which finds Cayetana dealing with death in an unexpected way could very well put a tear in your eye. [A]
The death of a patriarch is always ripe material for a dysfunctional family drama, but what sets Austrian director Marie Kreutzer's debut feature "The Fatherless" apart is that her father figure wasn't the head of a 'normal' type of family. Instead, he was the leader of a sexually liberated commune with '60s ideals about freedom. "He kind of forced us to be free," one character muses. Now grown up, his children struggle with how their past has shaped their lives. To her credit, Kreutzer reveals the abnormalities of their upbringing very naturally. Referenced casually and further explained in detail when the right moment in time arises, the way these characters grapple with their history feels organic rather than dramatically forced.
What follows is a well-acted, competent movie that unfortunately is not altogether very surprising or interesting. It makes the big mistake of making the largest story arc a mystery from the past that everyone knows about except for one character. It's drawn out and when the reveal finally arrives, the effect on the characters is not as important as the film seems to think it is. The best moments are the flashbacks to the days of the commune, impressionistically shot from the point of view of whoever is remembering, sometimes the camera will linger in slow motion on a really striking image or moment in time, allowing us to feel the weight and significance of the memory.
Though Kreutzer is a fine technician, nothing about the narrative structure, the dialogue or the story is particularly memorable. And while beautifully lensed, the film never quite builds or delivers the punch it wants to. [B-]