Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Kid Who Lies (El Chico que Miente)

Many in the local cast had never seen a movie before as the town has no movie theater, so a special screening was set up outside a municipality clubhouse in the small fishing village of Ocumare (pop. 7000) where 1000 people showed up to watch the film. (February 25, 2011)

Director Marité Ugás

THE KID WHO LIES (El Chico que Miente)     B+                     
Venezuela  Peru  (100 mi)  2011  d:  Marité Ugás         Official site

The director is a Peruvian filmmaker with a background from the Cuban film industry, which suggests she’s familiar with depictions of social realism, which are put to good use here from a country that only makes about a dozen films a year, as this is largely a Venezuelan road movie highlighted by the exquisite remote locations and the use of local non-professionals from the region that inhabit the screen, where she captures the vitality of the region through the people that populate these small ocean villages.  The impetus for making the movie was recreating the impact of the 1999 Vargas mudslides on the northern Caribbean coast of the country, a natural disaster of torrential storms killing more than 10,000 people, leaving many neighborhoods buried under 10 feet of mud while others were simply swept away to sea.  Reminiscent of Kiarostami’s LIFE AND NOTHING MORE (1992) from his Earthquake Trilogy, which made brilliant use of the aftereffects of the Manjil-Rudbar earthquake of 1990 in Iran, also using actual locations to accentuate his film, Ugás takes a different approach, telling the story through the wrenchingly personal travails of a young 13-year old boy, Iker Fernández, who has been left orphaned by the tragedy wandering alone through the countryside.  Mixing flashbacks of what he remembers about his past, some of which was told to him by his father when they lived in a gutted building complex afterwards, and some of which he had to discover for himself, the movie moves backwards and forward in time, all part of his personal journey.   

In the opening scene, shot in the enormous waves of the ocean, the boy and his dog struggle to survive, where in his anxiety he unfortunately loses the dog, his sole companion, a harrowing moment that offers an introductory portal to the mood of tragedy that awaits the viewer, as the boy will find nearly everyone he meets has been affected by the mudslide.  But since he’s such a young kid, people generously offer him food and water, people who have little themselves, which is a prominent theme of the film, where he has opportunities to become part of extended families, but he keeps searching for any trace of his missing mother.  As he meets people along the way, he reveals what he remembers about the tragedy, which keeps changing along the way, as he embellishes certain aspects of the story or changes it outright, where it soon becomes clear he really doesn’t know the full truth, as he was only 3 when it happened.  As he hitchhikes or is offered rides, he keeps searching for a woman who sells oysters, who he believes could be his mother, though much of what he knows about her was told by his abusive father who had little use for her after she left him.  But he survived afterwards, while she may have lost her life protecting the boy.  But he left his father soon after realizing he was being told a pack of lies.  Part of the road journey is adding to the mythology of what will become his true life story.

One of the intriguing aspects of the film is the tone of naturalism, beautifully shot by Micaela Cajahuaringa, where the villages are tiny, but inhabited by authentic people who have likely never been on camera before, where we witness local festivities, annual tributes to the Patron Saint of Disasters, which includes music and decorated boats.  Nothing feels forced, where the fluid change of scenery or the abrupt discovery of new characters is enhanced by the kindness offered by the women, where some cook for him, others sing, others try to make him their own, taking the place of their own missing son, while others try to exploit his labor services.  He’s a friendly guy, but he catches on quickly when people try to take advantage of him, another familiar theme of the film, as the movie is filled with people who exploit those who have been hurt the most, thinking they are easiest to manipulate.  Perhaps the most lasting friendship he makes in the film is with a local black fisherman kid, Aldrin Sterling, who continually calls the boy Blondie, taking to him right away as he’s equally friendless and alone, but he’s a bit older and has an easy-natured style of hustling about him, where he’s always trying to con somebody.  What’s most fascinating is the film introduces us to a side of Venezuela rarely seen, rich in character, idiosyncrasies, traditions, and especially the music, much of which is beautifully captured by Camilo Froideval.  The real discovery is the poignancy of the boy, who readily accepts help but refuses pity, where Fernández is captivating throughout.  Ugás mentioned she tested over 200 young boys for the part and one of the questions she asked each of them was if they ever lied?  Fernández was the only one who acknowledged he lies.  And when asked why, he simply stated:  to survive.   

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