Bad Hair: the weight of difference

Celia Rodríguez Tejuca of Guadalajara Talent Press 2014 reviews Mariana Rendón's PELO MALO

Mariana Rendón's PELO MALO

Pelo Malo (2013), third feature from Venezuelan director´s Mariana Rondon, presented in la Sección Oficial de Largometrajes Iberoamericanos de Ficción en el contexto del 29 Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara (The Official Selection of Latin American Fiction Feature films in the context of the 29th International Film Festival in Guadalajara), is one of those movies in which multiple universes converge in one space-time: sexuality, family, society and politics. Everything reaches its happy coordination through a classic story that brings us to the world of Junior, a 9 year old boy who has the constant desire to improve its image by changing the look of his curly hair to straight in order to feel more comfortable. His obsession causes tension in the patriarchal society in which he grows up, specifically with his mother, a woman in the family whom assumes the paternal role. She suspects a possible homosexual orientation in her child, for what her character is constantly in crisis the emotional relationship between the two of them, taking to limit the possibility of understanding. As previously noted, there is a clear intention from the director to provide chronotopic marks that locate the viewers in a specific Venezuelan society and highlight the feelings of the individuals in those spaces.

In the big city, political propaganda flooded the streets, it was combined with religious codes. Everything has an unbridled speed, an excessive becoming. By carrying the camera with the hand, gives us that urban pulse, where the subject is lost, canceled before its macro environment. The sounds become squeaky, the city seems to scream.

Meanwhile, at the neighborhood and at home has shown a disturbing stillness. Its habitants seem to do anything. We know that downstairs a gun has been shot, but only occurs as sound information. The image is then, loaded with new meanings. We are in a sort of misery-village with its modular buildings, where you can see from its window, the house of another. The vision is so limited, obstructed by boring buildings and a crushing monumental structure. In the house everything is much quieter, with its low lighting ... so the images appears to be hidden behind a filter of dust. Here also comes the propaganda, and with it; the advertising that imposed models of life, which dictates what is the ideal hair. The children dream of being important media figures: a Miss Venezuela, a famous singer, but the reality does not accompany their dreams, and this causes a readjustment that it is expressed at an early age, in a overwhelmed preference for the artificial and foreign culturally.

Besides the main conflict of the child with his mother, a dramatic line that gives closure to this second character is added. The daily struggles in finding ways to raise her kids and provide them with the minimum conditions for existence. This leads to the breakdown of her moral, to a sexual relationship with her future boss, however it is a fracture without major negative impact on their inner life, rather the fail situation she instructs her child, showing him a world for which he is not ready yet. However, the real conflict of the story, (that one that takes the characters from beginning to the end), is the complex relationship between Junior and Martha, his mother. She sees in him a certain homosexual orientation, which she comprehend as a humiliation, a disease caused by a physical disorder (and this is where the cliché emerge), in a very schematic way. After all, Junior is still an individual who is still growing up, which may be expressed in one way or another, but that hardly has any awareness of his sexual pleasure. Junior is still in a process of exploring his body, his tastes, to put it shortly; his identity. The film manages to communicate the tension in the relationship between the two characters, their curious attraction-repulsion link.

We are placed in an area of protest against Manichaeism and value judgments, absolute and superficial. Perhaps the scene that best illustrates this, is the last time that we see together Junior and Martha. She says she will send him to live with his grandmother, but he refuses, and in his plea, he asks if everything would be all right by just getting a haircut. She gives him the cutting hair machine is at that moment when we are presented with the monumental image of the child cutting his hair off with a very restrained but aggressive expression at the same time. A close up is achieved, capable of tighten the ropes of emotion of any audience. So far it seems that we are faced with another bombastic film. However, what makes the film build up in its clear intention to leave defined through images and sounds a thesis on society. Junior changes his gesture and asks his mother; what will happen when his hair grows back up? The time of the story is open to the future. And at this point we might ask ourselves whether identity is a piece of clothing that everyone put on to recognize us as individuals and different subjects or, on the contrary, it is a very complex inner structure that could express to the exterior.

However, the director does not stop there and decides to show us the conflict in a greater environment. After the scene talked about, a zenith overhead shot view of an elementary school accompanied by the melody of the Venezuela´s national anthem is presented to us. Planning changes suddenly, the camera looks into the row, looking for the child's face, but his image is muted ... Junior has decide to take sides. If the institutions that define us as social subjects do not match with the identity we built up for ourselves, then why sing their song? why should we dilute ourselves in this malleable and in the homogeneous mass of society? Symbolically, singing the national anthem becomes a choice of each individual, a right that we should belong to everyone equally. Thus, Mariana Rondon has opted for the difference in its highest sense, diversity and affirming singularities shapes us as individuals.

By Celia Rodríguez Tejuca.