Ball in the Family
A frustrated youngster nicknamed "the marble" grows up in an abusive family outside Madrid in the emotional Spanish drama "El Bola."
By DAVID LIPFERT
(Originally reviewed at the 2002 New Directors/New Films Festival.)
Spain must have an endless supply of wholesome kids to tear at cinemagoers' hearts. Juan JosŽ Ballesta is the latest as 12-year old Pablo, who prefers his nickname El Bola for the large ball bearing he carries around in his side pocket. To invent excitement in his faceless Madrid neighborhood way off the tourist circuit, he goes with a gang to play chicken at the suburban train tracks.
It's better than being at home, where father Mariano (Manuel Mor—n) jumps on him for the least offense. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Mariano uses the kid to vent his frustrations at having to be super nice to customers at his cramped neighborhood hardware store. Not only that there's Abuela (grandmother to Pablo), who commits inopportune but psychologically significant actions. (She is probably Mariano's mother, since she alone escapes his ire.) Mother Aurora (Gloria Mu–oz) tries to shore up family finances by making soup every night while cooling tempers. Lurking in the characters' psyches is the loss of Pablo's sibling in a car accident over a decade earlier.|
Pablo's school friends know about his predicament, but it is a new arrival, Alfredo (Pablo Gal‡n), that shows him a way out. Unlike Pablo, Alfredo has a cool, rational head on his shoulders that belies his young age, but his family offers even more contrast. Alfredo's father, JosŽ (Alberto JimŽnez), runs a tight ship at home too, but there is also a loving atmosphere at that home that keeps smiles on everyone's faces. Evidently JosŽ's tattoo business is booming, because he can afford a shiny new RV to ferry the family to their well-outfitted mountain cabin.
Conveniently there is a social worker in the house, a family friend named Laura (Ana Wagener). Quoting policies and procedures, she makes sure JosŽ stays on the right side of the law even while he wants very much to help Pablo. Events take their course, leaving Pablo at the end of his tether, his only hope that JosŽ prevents him from returning home and back to more abuse.
Pablo's confession to the unseen social worker at the end includes the tortures shown in the film (including a very realistic pummeling) plus others that were never mentioned. Since his account seems a mite too polished, the scene unwittingly leaves open the possibility that he was coached to round out his list with "standard language." Lies and exaggerations are nearly impossible to counter. But Ma–as's message is for the Pablos of this world and a strongly positive one for anyone close to victims of abuse. If this film were shown in schools, it might prompt many silent victims to drop their fears about coming forward to seek help.
Director Achero Ma–as could have taken the plot in any number of directions buddy flick, gang study, family psychoanalytical tedium but he keeps Pablo firmly at the center. If anything, the plot is too neat. Abuse victims can only hope to find sympathetic allies such as JosŽ and wife Marisa (Nieve de Medina). All the actors enjoy lighting worthy of fashion photography. The Pablo, Alfredo and friends are fine, but only fathers JosŽ and Mariano have significant acting challenges, which they successfully meet.
|MARCH 28, 2002|
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