The innocence if childhood is often used in cinema to tackle serious social issues. The presence of a child can often add another level of potency and emotion to a film. Whether it’s a tale of poverty such as The Rocket, exploitation and power in The White Ribbon, or fascism in the fantastical Pan’s Labyrinth, youthful naivety can really ram the point home. In Mariana Rondón’s Pelo Malo the subject of homophobia and Venezuelan society come under the spotlight, seen through the eyes of a young boy.
Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano) is eight and hoping to go to school soon. He lives with his stressed mother (Samantha Castillo) who is struggling to hold down a job whilst looking after him and his baby brother. Whilst most children in his neighbourhood grow up to join gangs, Junior is only interested in singing and dancing, but is mostly preoccupied by his hair. Whilst his mother tries to get her job back, Junior is dropped-off to be looked after by Carmen (Nelly Ramos), his grandmother. Junior needs an ID photo in order to register at school, and whilst his mother can’t afford the fee, he’s determined to have his picture taken in the style of a famous singer.
It would have been easy to make a film which looks directly at issues around homosexuality and the socio-economic and societal issues in Venezuela. Mariana Rondón makes something much more. Tackling these problems through Junior, she’s able to show them from another perspective. Samuel Lange Zambrano Is brilliant as Junior, as are all the main cast, and the drama never tips over the edge into cliché; keeping you guessing until the end.
Pelo Malo is released on DVD by Axiom films on March 30.