27 January 2011

At the Cinema: Abel

Abel (Diego Luna/2010) Mexico/82 mins. **½

Abel, the second directorial effort by actor Diego Luna (after the 2007 sporting documentary J.C. Chávez), was both a frothy fable-like tale centered on family loyalty and a minor polemic about masculinity in Mexico. It's the story of a boy, the titular Abel, who returns home from a stay at a psychiatric hospital to resume living with his mother and siblings – only to assume the role of patriarch of the house, brought on by his father’s disappearance years earlier. The family go along with the ruse in the hope that it aids Abel’s recovery.

It’s an amusing, sweet-natured look at how families are truly peculiar to themselves more so than to others. It gently questions the role of the patriarch in modern Mexican life and makes a few choice and aptly conveyed criticisms of male-dominated hierarchies. Though it plays all this with pleasant abandon, Luna handles the few slightly troubling darker moments with able care. With such an attention-seeking - and oddly quirky - narrative conceit, there are one or two moments which come close to being faintly embarrassing, but they stop from being crassly delivered; the overall humanistic tone lightens the film nicely. Luna and co. swerve anything too dramatically or tonally disruptive, and perhaps with it they unfortunately avoid any truly contentious pointmaking - although it scores well enough on the likeable front. If the ending seemed a bit easily arrived at, it was made up for by the wonderful photography and easygoing performances, not least a cracking turn by young Christopher Ruiz-Esparza as Abel.

This mini review has been adapted/altered from a piece for the LFF I wrote at The Film Experience

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