The Zero Hour is a gritty, fast-paced heist film. Set in Caracas during the 24 hours of a controversial medical strike, the film tells the story of Parca (The Reaper) a feared hit man that ... See full summary »
.......and when those dark eyes peer at you from the screen........
Obeying orders from two of my young Venezuelan students to have dinner with them and the boy-friend of one, I dutifully shuffled out one Thursday night, with a bottle of Ramón Bilbao tinto "Gran Reserva" 1985 under my arm, and enjoyed splendid company, a tasty roast chicken, and "arepas" (they told me "sin 'H'") which is a Colombian-Venezuelan speciality and extremely filling. And after dinner, slaking down excellent Colombian coffee, one of the girls put "Maroa" on her lap-top, while outside the rain fell silently and steadily, no doubt to add a little atmosphere to the proceedings.
We have here an almost "Billy Elliot" kind of film but in a very Hispano-Venezuelan tone set in the tough world of the "ranchos" around Caracas spread out on the "cerros". In other words, in the slums or shanty-towns on the hills around the Venezuelan capital. And a tough life it is indeed - poverty and violence living hand in hand amid corruption and police brutality.
Solveig Hoogestein, Belgian-born but "adopted" by Venezuela, does not shy from this authentic background of one of the most violent cities in the world; I could have well done without some of the beatings the little actress suffered at the hands of police and others; however that would have gone against the grain of the truthfulness of the story-line.
Yorlis Domínguez was an uncanny eleven-year-old when this film was made; even then she had - and I suppose and hope she still has - that physical capacity in her face and eyes with which to portray and transmit so many different feelings throughout this film - she is barely off screen - such that from the earlier sequences you are at once held open-eyed in wonderment and disbelief, which later in the film simply becomes admiration.
Tristan Ulloa (Lucía y el Sexo 2001 - qv) carries out his part well enough, I suppose, somewhat eclipsed by the presence of Yorlis, which does not surprise anybody. Very worthy of mention is Elba Escobar as Brígida, Maroa's not-so-elderly but very ailing grandmother, eking out a living from whatever in her spartan dwelling up on the "cerros" - her part is very secondary, but when on screen, her performance is compelling and convincing.
Carmen Frías once again excellent with the scissors after her extraordinary work in Truebas "Calle 54" (qv), as once again she has to edit film with music, in this case bits of Haendel and Mozart, mostly, and a very old friend turns up as producer - Gerardo Herrero - erstwhile director of such fare as "Territorio Comanche" (1997)(qv) "Malena es un nombre de tango" (1996)(qv), as well as being one of the producers for Polanski's great film "The Pianist" (1998) and the very recommendable "Martín (Hache)" (qv) directed by the Argentinian Adolfo Aristarain, among other not so memorable excursions, or forays - as you will.
The end result in "Maroa" is touching, but in the sense of plucking a few chords of sympathy mixed with regret and even a little guilt, tugging at one's conscience; but in no way is this film a mere "tear-jerker". Far from it. This film should have become known outside of Venezuela, apart from a couple of French film festivals. But I see it is about to debut in Berlin........
Ah: the Spanish - apart from Tristan Ulloa - is extremely dialectical, pure Venezuelan, and thus will not be easy to understand even by advanced students of this language.
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