Latest posts by Alexander P. Garza (see all)
- Review: Little Rooster’s Egg-cellent Adventure (Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos) - October 30, 2015
- Review: Behavior (Conducta) - June 17, 2015
- Lorís Simón Salum and the Literally Short Film Festival - June 12, 2015
I was pleasantly surprised by Behavior (Conducta) when I attended the Latin Wave Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston last month. Marian Luntz and Diana Sanchez introduced the film and mentioned how it was a landmark film for Cuba, as it reflects the real daily struggles of Cuban citizens, conservatively criticizes the government, but shows how, despite day to day hardships, the community can come together for the sake of children’s well-being. Behavior (Conducta) is about Carmela (Alina Rodríguez), a teacher who, despite poor health and political and social pressures, helps the young misguided Chala (Valdes Freire) stay out of returning to re-education (a juvenile detention center). The local social worker, Raquel (Sílvia Águila), along with some faculty members are thwarting their efforts by trying to send Chala back to re-education and force Carmela into retirement.
I truly enjoyed this film, despite a few misgivings regarding acting and the predictability of the story. There’s an inherit risk in hiring first time actors. But considering that these were all debuts for the child actors, they did an outstanding job. Although some moments were well-executed by the main adult actors, at times I wondered where the depth in their characters were. The muted colors lent a realistic look to the film and daylight shooting kept the story lighthearted despite the serious situations and content.
The story seems simple, but the characters carry depth, and their interactions unfold to show a change in everyone surrounding the relationship between Carmela and Chala. Carmela is an aging teacher toward the end of her career. She is a local legend in education and is not only Chala’s teacher, but was also his mother’s and Ignacio’s teacher as well.
Chala is a young troublemaker who is acting out at school, getting in fights, and avoiding studying. We soon discover some of the underlying reasons for his bad behavior which include having to take care of his alcoholic drug-addicted mother (Yuliet Cruz), the lack of a father figure, and having to fill in as the sole household earner.
Amaly Junco plays Yeni, Chala’s crush and the peer with whom he can relate to. But Yeni is dealing with hardships of her own. Yeni is the top of her class, a straight-A student. She’s got the intelligence and talent to be successful, but her potential is stifled when the school administration doesn’t allow her to attend classes, because she lives outside of the school’s district zone. To make matters worse, her father is dirt poor, can’t get a steady job, and seems to be discriminated against by local authorities.
Chala’s change only happens through the carefully orchestrated ensemble of characters and their development. I was pleased to see that every single character went through some type of transformation in this film. The performance that stood out among them was Armando Miguel Gómez’s portrayal of Ignacio. At first, it seemed like Armando Miguel Gómez was going to play Ignacio as a stoic-faced one-dimensional character, but after some time, I realized this was not the case.
Ignacio gains complexity and depth with each of his scenes. He displays a self-involved machismo, who earns most of his income from dog fighting. Although Ignacio is sleeping with Chala’s mother, he doesn’t want the commitment or responsibility of rearing Chala. He maintains an ‘it’s not my problem’ attitude. When Chala asks Ignacio if he’s his father, Ignacio responds carefully with “I honestly don’t know”. Small seeds of sentimentality are deposited into Ignacio’s mind throughout the story, and it comes to a head when Carmela finally confronts him.
Carmela tries to convince Ignacio to be more of a father figure to Chala. Ignacio gets defensive and reasons that he is helping Chala by letting him earn income with dog fighting. During a heated exchange, Carmela demands Ignacio to stop allowing Chala to the dog fights and implores him to be a good role model for Chala.
The motif of animals in the film provided a fascinating parallel along Chala’s struggles, whether intentional or not. Chala takes care of pigeons on the rooftop of his apartment building. Chala shows those birds the very things missing from his life: love and care. With the help of Carmela, who provides Chala’s much needed love and care, he is given hope and reason to modify his behavior and prevent the authorities from sending him back to the re-education center.
Chala’s dog also provides another parallel. Chala’s dog is forced to fight, work, and sacrifice himself to make money for his master. The dog doesn’t have a choice in the matter, and if it were up to Chala, his dog would never have entered the ring. When Ignacio tries to give Chala a portion of the winnings from his dog’s fight, Chala refuses, learning that life, love, and friendship can’t be measured in monetary terms.
The film is predictable, and I could tell how the story would end from the opening scenes. But that didn’t prevent me from enjoying it. The film can make you cringe, laugh, cry, smile, and is worth watching if not for the heart-warming moments, then to get a glimpse of what life might be like in the school system in the slums of Cuba.
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