By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
My final feature film of the 17th annual Cine Las Americas International Film Festival closed the event on a somewhat somber, but important and relevant note. Another import from Venezuela, Pelo Malo tells the story of Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano), a young impoverished child with much internal and emotional conflict. Junior has grown to despise his curly hair which he inherited from his late father, a man with obvious African roots. Junior has grown so spiteful of his hair that he becomes obsessed with straightening it so that he will look good for school and for his mother Marta (Samantha Castillo), a woman who has a hard life supporting herself and her two children. Her difficult life has made her woman full of sadness and anger which she often takes out on Junior. To make matters worse, Junior’s obsession with his looks only infuriates Marta further, when he only wishes she would show him more affection.
Written and directed by Mariana Rondon, Pelo Malo is a heartbreaking and sometimes painful look at poverty, racism, and homophobia in Venezuela. Rondon has written a remarkable script that addresses these issues among the struggling poor of Caracas. She never pulls punches in portraying some of the difficult decisions that a single mother must make to support her children in a macho, male dominated society, and a racially prejudiced and homophobic one at that. The cast all deliver excellent performances, particularly Zambrano who, at such a young age, shines and never falters. Prior to seeing this film, I had not heard the name Mariana Rondon, but from now on, I would love to see her name in lots of future film credits.