Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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GUSTAVO SALMERÓN: LOTS OF KIDS, A MONKEY AND A CASTLE/MUCHOS HIJOS, UN MONO Y UN CASTILLO (2017) - SFIFF

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JULETA SALMERÓN IN LOTS OF KIDS, A MONKEY AND A CASTLE

She knew what would make her happy

The Spanish actor Gustavo Salmerón filmed his eccentric and buoyant mother, her husband, and her six children over 14 years on digital, super 8, and iPhone6 for this "home movie" whose extravagant eccentricity make it appealing to anyone and something essentially Spanish. The ability to survive, even enjoy, borderline crazy excess - notably an excess of possessions overflowing into a literal castle - somehow make one less afraid of ordinary problems. There is, also, plenty of action, despite the subject, Juleta Salmerón, rarely leaving the house, and sometimes holding forth from bed, a position in which she sometimes likes to give instructions as to what to do when she dies. (At the end, she is eighty.)

The title is no joke. These were the things Juleta from childhood dreamed of - and achieved. Six (living) children; for a while, a pet monkey (till it became too aggressive and had to be "given away." And, after a large inheritance fell her way, a real, huge castle, with grassy grounds, turrets, crenulated edges, and a suit of armor, along with beautiful objects, statues, paintings, and an excess of stored stuff, often in neatly labeled boxes.

This stuff, youngest son and filmmaker Gustavo and his other siblings (who all seem to be around - "that is the nice thing," Juleta says at one point. "They went away, and they came back") spend time sorting through. First just to point out the excess of it - which indeed is almost endlessly amusing, then in search of the vertebrae of her grandfather, executed by the communists in the civil war; then to move it all out, when, after the great financial crash of 2008, they are forced to give up the castle and move to their place in Madrid. Details of the rise and fall are not given, and don't matter. It is evident that Juleta's buoyancy isn't seriously dented by changes in circumstance, that her lively monogogues thrive on the prospects of adversity, that, anyway, she manages to have it pretty good much of her life.

"This is the best time of the day," she says, when she's biting into a crunchy piece of toast and sipping her milky mocha coffee. Her husband chides her for being increasingly "gorda" (fat), but she is not about to abandon any of her remaining creature comforts. And we enjoy her enjoyment.

She describes her husband, a quiet, elegant man who is deaf, and might be styled as "long-suffering," as having been a very spoiled rich boy. Bohh are conservatives. They are right wing, they are monarchists, and, in her case, they are obsessed with death. This sounds like Salvador Dalì, and it's all so Spanish it's not surprising that in the move-out from the castle, splendid pink bullfighting capes appear.

There is a literal skeleton that is rescued from the castle in the moving out. There is, by the way, her husband's (former) factory, a huge space that the family now uses as a warehouse for its endless accumulation of junk. This is where everything goes when the castle is emptied, which the family, in an economy move, seems to do most of the moving for themselves. Then later, the factory is robbed, and all the best stuff is stolen.

None of this somehow matters. Juleta remains eccentric, bubbly, glittering and glamorous. And planning her own death - but not just yet. I laughed a lot, and sat close to the screen, eager to see what would come next. The film ends with a review of early footage of the six children. They are very handsome.

Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle/Muchos hijos, un mono y un castillo, 91 mins., debuted at Karlovy Vary Film documentary competition, July 2017, winning the top prize about two dozen fests including Toronto, London, DOC NYC, and (Apr. 2018) the San Francisco International Film Festival, as part of which it was screened for this review.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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