El Bola (2000)
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Dramatic film dealing with domestic violence , friendship , parents-sons relationship and many other things . This is a perceptible and enjoyable portrait of a pair of big city kids, reminiscent of François Truffaut's 400 blows (1959). The picture achieved big success - both public and critical - and getting several prizes as national : Goya Award as international : Prix la Présidence Belge De l'Union Européenne 2001 and Nominé Pour Grand Prix Festival de Montpellier . Agreeable performances by entire cast as Juan Jose Ballesta as a deeply abusive boy at 12-year-old raised in a violent and sordid environment , Alberto Jimenez as a fun-loving Bohemian daddy and Manuel Moron as a tyrannical father . Colorful and appropriate cinematography by Juan Carlos Gomez . Emotive and adequate musical score by Eduardo Arbide , Achero Mañas' usual musician .
The motion picture was compellingly directed by Achero Mañas , a prestigious actor and filmmaker . Achero first followed in the steps of his mother, actress Paloma Lorena who played in two of his films, and his father , a notorious producer named Alfredo Mañas , but he soon turned from thespian to filmmaker. He made three shorts before meeting a big hit as ¨El Bola¨ that is dedicated to Laura Mañas . His second feature ¨Noviembre¨ (2003) also garnered least five awards but he was less successful with ¨Blackwhite¨ (2004). After five years in the wilderness, Mañas is making a come back with "Anything You Want" (2010). Rating : Better than average , well worth watching .
El Bola is a teen ager we meet playing a dangerous game at the railroad tracks near Madrid. It's a game where two opponents jump to pick up something from the track as a suburban train is about to pass by. Young Pablo is nicknamed "The Pellet" because of the ball he keeps with him as a token for good luck.
Pablo's home life is marked by unhappiness and grief caused by the tragic death of a sibling. The sullen parents have to struggle tending the sick, and elderly mother of Mariano, the father. Pablo is made to help with the old lady's bath, something a small boy should not be called to do.
Into Pablo's life comes Alfredo, who joins the class, evidently at the middle of the school term. Pablo sees a kind of normal pal in the new arrival and seeks the boy to be with. That meets with the father's wrath, as he considers the new friend as trash because Alfredo's father, Jose, is a tattoo artist. In reality, Alfredo comes from a good home with caring parents. Pablo sees a normal way of life in his friend's house. The friendship brings the worst in Mariano who beats the young man harder to the point that he needs medical attention.
"El Bola" is a film that depicts the abuse openly and it hits the viewer as a low punch to the stomach. Nothing justifies the way Pablo is beaten senselessly by a father that should be made accountable for what he is doing to his son; the images one sees are revolting. Director Manas makes his point in showing what an animal the old man is by taking all his frustrations on Pablo.
The acting is good in general. Juan Jose Balleste plays Pablo with ease for a young actor who seems to be a natural. Pablo Galan is Alfredo, the true friend. Alberto Jimenez portrays Jose, and Manuel Moron makes a brutish Mariano believable.
Achero Manas asks a lot from his audience. Although child abuse is a disgusting practice, it goes on, probably much more than one realizes. This is a crude film that doesn't offer any happy solution to the problem, or how to avoid it and it's an eye opener as to how the action of a man, that shouldn't have had children, and will scar the young son for life.
I've also seen movies like "boys of st Vincent" and "song for a raggy boy", but this movie about child abuse is just different. The movies i mentioned have great (young)actors too, but this movie make you realize that this might be your neighbour boy's story. If you start watching the movie, you feel that something's wrong with El Bola ("Pellet") but you just don't know what. And i guess that's one of the strengths of this movie: it's not only told in a natural way, but it's rather suggestive. And a lot of people are disappointed that the movie's just cut after 88 minutes without a proper ending, but i think that's the way it goes in real life too : a life/story is like a roller coaster: it has it ups and downs, but the only thing that matters is where it ends
But this movie wouldn't be the same without the strong soundtrack (highly recommended) and it's young cast. El Bola is played by Juan José Ballesta (my favorite young actor) who also appears in the interesting and touching "planta 4a". He has also a very small role in a movie a mentioned before : "song for a raggy boy" (as the young friend of the teacher in the flash backs)
It would not be strictly correct to affirm that this film, `El Bola' directed by Achero Mañas, reflects this sociological situation, and probably was not the intention anyway: there were other important issues that had to be unveiled, too. However, in brief, we could say that the film is basically concerned with the physical punishment Pablo (El Bola) receives from his father, a small business owner, frustrated and bored with life. Pablo receives refuge from a sympathetic family, but the problems do not stop there.
Well directed, above all keeping the violence within strict proportions to the import of the story, and in general good interpretations which do not tend to unnecessarily exaggerate the crude and difficult situations being enacted. Special mention, of course, is well deserved for the main actor Juan José Ballesta, about 11 years old. He had a very secondary rôle in `El Embrujo de Shanghai' (qv), and thus surprised me at being able to deliver such a performance in this film: obviously the director's careful handling of the young lad, as well as some excellent rapport with the other actors, especially Nieve de Medina, holds the film on course.
I hope that this younger generation of Spanish directors, such as Achero Mañas and of course Fernando León de Aranoa (Los Lunes al Sol, qv, also with Nieve de Medina) can keep up the good work in the sociological sphere with real human stories to tell.
WARNING: this film necessarily includes a scene of extreme child violence carried out by his overwrought father, and thus care should be taken by parents. The Spanish rating of only for over 13s should not be taken seriously: over 18 would be more appropriate. The scene is short; the film is not only about violence as it has many other ingredients. However, this brief scene is very hard on the senses.
Perhaps Alberto's family may fear that they will be accused. X-rays can reveal prior healed fractures, and the pattern of healed scars and of the present injuries would reliably point to abuse predating Pablo's acquaintance with Alfredo and his family.
It is very strange to watch a movie that unfolds with realistic portraits of the two families and their social milieus and then jump to a completely implausible ethical dilemma of whether or not Pablo should be returned to his abusive father.
This film is well acted (particularly by its child actors) with a heart-wrenching story of child abuse and the loyalty of children to each other. It also portrays an alternative to the abusive dysfunctional family of the abused boy, by delving into the dynamics of the family of the abused boy's friend. One very original touch is the way a child who is essentially wise and responsible and mature beyond his years (the well-adjusted best friend) is misunderstood by his 'hip' parent who assumes that the child is deceiving him and behaving in the irresponsible and foolish way that the father did as a child. Unfortunately, the film completely collapses when the adults behave in a way that is absolutely unbelievable. Is there something about Spanish society that I'm not aware of? A child is brutally beaten by his father, runs for help to the family of his best friend where he shows up bloody and bruised, is taken to the hospital by this caring family AND THERE IS NO INTERVENTION BY THE POLICE???? Are not hospitals required to report child abuse when it is so blatant and when the child is forthcoming about the perpetrator? How could a caring adult not report the boy's father to the police? And how could he insist that the child return to his own home where he is certainly in danger of being further injured or even killed? It was at this point that I left the theatre. Whatever the outcome, the film had become a pointless narrative with no relationship to reality.
Film is done in a very interesting style. Not much violence is used. Pablo isn't shown doing great histrionics. Father also isn't shown a neurotic or a psychopath. It's just that their chemistry has gone wrong somewhere and they can't get along. Pablo comes across as a energetic, non-conformist boy. Relationship between all the characters are very real and full of daily conversation. Film doesn't have a single dull moment.
Pablo's father steals the show here. Great acting. Acting is mostly above average and cinematography is amazing. Pablo is really very good and so is his friend. Scene where Alfredos father pull up Pablo and Alfredo in the car is very good. I kept wondering what would be the end of the film. To my expectation the ending was perfect ending. Good film. 8/10.
In this case, El Bola is the story of a kid physically abused by his strict and violent father. The movie does a great job to show the whole panorama of this complicated situation. El Bola's life is surrounded by misery, his family is a chaos, his mother is submissive to her aggressive husband, his situation at school is not better, and in general, the movie shows how being abused causes the abused kid to fail is every aspect of life.
El Bola meets a new friend, which turns out to have a great and loving family. This is part of the other part of the problematic: how normal families fail to act appropriately when they find out a child they know is beaten up by his parents.
In summary, the movie exposes this hard topic with class and elegance, sometimes showing very brute and harsh scenes, that nonetheless, are necessary to shake up the audience's feelings and make them understand the importance this matter has.
In this story, Pedro, a.k.a. El Bola due to a small malleable pellet he constantly holds, is a lonely boy going to school who has few to no friends. At home, his father Mariano is everything but loving: he's a tyrant who forces his will and his anger almost constantly at Pedro who lives in total fear of him. However, a new boy in school, Alberto, prompts Pedro to come out of his shell and both become friends. Pedro becomes accepted in Alberto's family, particularly Jose, Alberto's father, who treats his son as a friend more than a son. On the other hand, Mariano doesn't see this friendship as something his son needs and progressively tries to keep him away from them until Alberto becomes aware of some telling marks on Pedro's body and takes matter into his own hands, having Jose alert the help of a social worker. However, things aren't that easy and her very intervention could backfire. That is, until one night, the violence in Pedro's home escalates to a point where actions must be taken.
Achero Mañas has created a movie that should be seen no matter how difficult some of the scenes between Pedro and Mariano may be. The only way to understand the horror of family abuse in the name of obedience and respect -- Mariano sees Jose as a pervert because he makes his living as a tattoo artist. Indeed, many of our parents would have reacted the same way if our friend's parents lived a "different" lifestyle. In many ways, Mariano and Jose represent Spain's past and future -- Mariano being the extreme conservative, Jose being the man of the future. Both actors are well cast in their roles. Manuel Moron has the physicality that suggests a brutal man, while Alberto Gimenez, despite his skinhead appearance which suggests counterculture, is a gentle man who unless pushed does not show aggression.
It's because of these two vastly different fathers that their son's personalities come through the way they do: Alberto is quietly confident. He has no issues other than the ones appropriate for his age -- typical growing pains. Pedro, however, has been raised in a house full of violence. His mother can't do much, though she would like to. It's not hard to see that in his closing confession, Pedro pours his feelings out for the very first time, and it's a barrage of emotion: the problem is, it's all negative, sheer hatred, all directed towards this man who has beat him for no other reason that he was an easy target. EL BOLA offers even at this most extreme moment a semblance of hope -- it does seem Pedro is under some form of therapy -- so in this way, Pedro's final outburst is not just his, but goes for every boy and girl who suffered under the hurtful hand of a parent. In this way, EL BOLA has a powerful message and conveys it beautifully.
I rented this out last year when I was in Spain without any knowledge of its content, having heard no publicity, only based on its showing at the Cesar Awards. I was rewarded by its touching portrayal of a small boy growing-up in the midst of a violent father.
I'd certainly never heard of the film before, but was telling all the people I met about how great it was for months after.