Friday 22 April 2011

On DVD: "Abel"

Abel, the directorial debut of the actor Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Rudo y Cursi) takes a while to find its comic groove, then delivers a run of chucklesome scenarios that, collectively, offer a light sending-up of stern Latin patriarchal values. Abel (played to straight-laced perfection by Christopher Ruiz Esparza) is an uptight nine-year-old who returns home after a spell of mental health supervision to a single seamstress mum who seems to have enough on her hands already with her remaining children. After careful study of the family photos, Abel works out what this unruly unit really needs: a dad - a role he assumes wholeheartedly, criticising his sister's report cards, and seeing off any suitors deemed unworthy of his girl.

Luna and his co-writer Augusto Mendoza have great fun with the idea, teasing us as to whether Abel's assumption of parental responsibility is merely childish role-playing or something more psychologically significant, possibly a way of correcting the imbalance within this household; certainly, the rest of the kid's clan appear all too willing to fall into line with his worldview, and he perhaps inevitably proves a more attentive father than the one who eventually sneaks back in, touting expensive gifts from the north by way of compensation for those long months of absent or withheld affection. (One especially nice touch here: Abel rejects the GameBoy he's offered in favour of a sensible gold bracelet.)

It's a little cosy overall, closer in tone to something like Malcolm in the Middle (self-assured youngster becomes voice of familial wisdom) than the uncanny item a Pasolini or Buñuel might have fashioned from such an ostensibly bourgeois-baiting set-up: Luna goes this way only once, with the jarring image of Abel and his mother in bed together, sharing what look disconcertingly like post-coital cigarettes ("Last night, mother and I wrote a letter to the stork"). By the denouement - a frightening encounter with the wider world that confirms the protagonist is, after all, still just a child, and thus still likely to venture out of his depth - normal service has been resumed; the consolation is that what's gone before has displayed some of the infectious mischief of Luna's work before the camera.

Abel is available on DVD from Monday.

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