El Bola (1999)

by | Jun 3, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

El Bola (1999)

Starring:  Juan Jose Ballesta, Pablo Galan, Alberto Jimenez, Manuel Moron
Director:  Achero Manas
Studio: Yes Film/Film Movement (filmmovement.com)
Video:
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Extras:  The Making of El Bola, Theatrical Trailer, Biographies of
Director & Actors, This Month’s Short Film: More by Mark Osborne
Length: Approx. 90 minutes
Rating: ****

El Bola won four Goya awards (Spain’s equivalent Academy Awards) in
2000 as well as more than 30 international awards. A satisfying story,
free of stereotypes, of friendship between two boys and a father’s
violent abuse of his son, El Bola is not a depressing film. It is
rather a journey filled with hope, though not with easy answers. El
Bola (pellet) is the nickname of Pablo, a 12 year old who lives with
his parents and grandmother in Madrid. Pablo carries a ball bearing for
luck.

El Bola begins at some railroad tracks with a train approaching and
some young boys playing a dangerous game. After Pablo fights with the
group’s leader, the time is right for a new friendship with Alfredo,
who is the new kid at school, a bit of a brooding loner. Pablo seeks
out the boy and the two begin to forge a strong bond. The character
development is subtle and thoughtful and the story itself is gripping.
I was not bored for one minute.

Both the development of the boys’ friendship and the contrast of the
two families–the way they are in the world, how they relate to their
boys, their ability to handle sorrow and experience joy–are conveyed
beautifully throughout the film. As various components of the normal,
loving family are revealed, we see in the young victim’s eyes that this
is a huge revelation-this is what life is supposed to be, how parents
can be and that a father can become angry out of love and without
losing control.

Which father is bad and which one is good is not spelled out
immediately. Both present at times as stern, angry and tough talking.
One seems for a while like he’s overly strict and a poor communicator
and wishes for a closer relationship with his boy. Or is he a
controlling jerk? The other father initially seems like a tough, stern
fellow, who might be viewed as socially unacceptable to some, his
lifestyle and profession a bit unconventional This is a good study in
how unrevealing surface appearances can be.

Though it is not that difficult to ascertain fairly soon where the good
and evil resides, a certain amount of ambiguity makes us reflect on
this issue. Another facet that is developed is the shame and secrecy of
both the victim and the perpetrator. And when people outside the family
learn about or strongly suspect violence, how often is nothing done to
stop it? There is a particularly chilling moment when the boy mutters
something to himself when he thinks the father is out of earshot.
Suddenly the boy sees only the feet of his father in the doorway. What
happens after is not shown which makes the horror somehow even more
terrible. Issues and questions are explored here through the excellent
story telling and with no easy answers.

El Bola is often fast paced with a number of brief scenes moving from
the streets, to the homes and businesses of the two families, the
railroad tracks, an amusement park and other places. Pablo and Alfredo
have a conversation on the street about death and whether God exists
after visiting Alfredo’s dying godfather. The cinematography
effectively illustrates the condition of each household, one is filled
with light, the other dark and grim. The acting, the writing, the
directing are all first rate. These characters become real.

The music is used sparingly but the dramatic effect is considerable,
enhancing the moods of the film. An intense violin and percussion piece
returns a number of times to underscore disturbing elements. By
contrast, guitar music conveys the carefree spirit of a blissful
afternoon hiking in the mountains.

Special features are listed above. Making of El Bola (Do be sure to
watch the film before you view this featurette) includes interviews
with the two young actors, Juan Jose Ballesta (Pablo) and Pablo Galan
(Alfredo) as well as with Manuel Moron (Pablo’s father) and Alberto
Jimenez (Alfredo’s father). This featurette is well worth watching with
clips from the film and interviews with the above as well as 
director Achero Manas.

More is a six minute claymation film by Mark Osbourne about conformity
vs. following your bliss. It is creatively done with puppets that look
like robots. More won 18 awards and was nominated for an Academy Award.

El Bola can be obtained through filmmovement.com, a monthly film club
with the purpose of the wider distribution of good independent films.

-Donna Dorsett

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