Pelo Malo (Bad Hair) review: Straight and narrow

Samuel Lange in Pelo Malo (Bad Hair)

Film Title: Pelo malo (Bad Hair)

Director: Mariana Rondón

Starring: Samuel Lange Zambrano, Samantha Castillo, Beto Benites, Nelly Ramos, María Emilia Sulbarán

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 93 min

Fri, Feb 13, 2015, 01:00

   

This award-winning Venezuelan drama concerns a warring mother and son who live in a vast and tatty Caracas apartment sprawl. As Mariana Rondón’s starkly neo-realist feature opens, Marta (Samantha Castillo) has lost her job as a security guard and is reduced to cleaning bathrooms.

Her imaginative nine-year-old son, Junior (Samuel Lange), harbours a small dream: to get his ID picture taken for school, preferably with his unruly hair smoothed into the kind of slick he sees on his grandma’s favourite pop-stars.

Unhappily, his cash-strapped mother is in no position to pay for a photograph. And besides, she’s becoming increasingly concerned with her offspring’s behaviour: his BF is a girl, his dance moves are eccentric, his pre-sexual fascination with a handsome newspaper vendor (Julio Méndez) is ‘off’.

Marta consults a doctor about her son and Grandma doesn’t help when she fashions a flamboyant outfit for Junior inspired by the 1960s Venezuelan pop singer. A despairing Marta intervenes by taking her former boss home and having sex where Junior can see them. Ew. Ew. Ew.

Pelo Malo’s grim trajectory leaves the viewer longing for the comparatively enlightened wire-hangar beatings of Mommy Dearest.

A brilliant cast improvise and workshop around a screenplay that Rondón wouldn’t let them see.

Rondón has plenty of important and harsh things to say about social constructs, hypocrisy and maternal tough love. But a child being twisted toward conformity does not make for easy viewing.