Pelo malo (2013) Poster

(2013)

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9/10
One of the Best Discoveries at Toronto
Movie-Jay15 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
One of the hidden gems at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that really stayed with me is "Bad Hair", an observant character drama from Venezuela that studies poverty and gender norms. I think if you love contemporary indie dramas like "Raising Victor Vargas" and "Pariah", you'll love this one, too.

Junior is a 9-10ish yr-old boy who lives with his mom Marta and baby brother in a tenement building inhabited by the working poor. Marta is her own worst enemy, not being able to hold onto steady employment, and we soon see her losing her cleaning job at a rich woman's house when Junior is caught in the lady's jacuzzi when he was supposed to be cleaning it on a day when he's tagged along with her to work.

Desperate, she goes to great lengths to get her old security guard job back. Marta is a pretty hot woman, but she's been hardened by her circumstances, and takes things out on Junior, who is an easy target because he's not like most boys.

Junior is obsessed with straightening his hair. He dances "funny". He holds long stares at the older teen boy who runs the little convenience stand outside their building. Why does he like that boy? "He has amazing eyes!". Not the right answer for mom, who feels responsible for the idea that her son is going down the gay path.

The movie observes their relationship with perception and sensitivity, with one honest scene building upon another. And those two lead performances are excellent. You never catch them acting, particularly by Samuel Lange as Junior, who has a very difficult task of suggesting things about gender and sexuality but in a way that a 10 yr-old doesn't quite understand yet.

This is a first-rate coming-of-age story, directed with assurance, with two performances that have stayed with me all week. Wonderful film. Should make it to the art-house circuit by next spring.
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9/10
Outstanding
MOscarbradley29 June 2015
"Pelo Malo" may turn out to be one of the great films about childhood. It is also one of the few movies that could loosely fit into the criteria of New Queer Cinema since it deals with the subject of a nine year old boy who almost certainly will grow up gay. He lives in the slums of Caracas with his mother and baby brother and it's his obsession with his hair, among other things, that leads his mother to conclude that he might, indeed, be gay and she's not the type of mother who wants a gay son. Fundamentally the issues on display here are notions of machismo and homophobia and they are treated with a good deal of sensitivity and some humour by the director Mariana Rondon.

As the boy, little Samuel Lange Zambrano is really quite extraordinary and Samantha Castillo is equally good as the mother struggling to keep her family together. Indeed, the naturalistic acting of the whole cast is to be commended. This is largely down to the intuitive direction of Rondon whose documentary-style approach is not far removed from Italian neo-realism and, although this is only her third feature in 16 years, marks her out as someone to watch.
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9/10
Mothers aren't perfect
fanny_veliz21 February 2015
This film is excellent. The acting, the story telling, and the productions values are all very high. I think a previous reviewer had the impression that the film should address more head on the subject of growing up black. But I can tell you as someone who is from Venezuela and now lives in the US, that's not a subject that it's discussed much in Venezuela. So I believe you're coming at it from your experience of growing up in the US. I bet if you were to ask the little boy in the film if he considers himself black, he would say no. The way this film tackles ethnicity and socioeconomic disparities is very subtle and that's why I believe it's so effective. Venezuela is a country obsessed with beauty pageants, and as many we have accepted that "straight hair" is the definition of beauty. I myself grew up believing I had "Pelo Malo." I now of course love my hair just the way it is. That was a wonderful tool the filmmaker chose to illustrate a symbol of not belonging. For me this film is mostly an exploration of motherhood. Mothers are supposed to be perfect, but how can you be when you're so focused on just surviving? I never once doubted that in the film the mother deeply loves her children, she's just making the choices she believes she has to make in her situation, even though sometimes those choices were plainly wrong.
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7/10
Venezuelan Film of a boy who is having more than one 'bad hair day'.
t-dooley-69-38691629 April 2015
'Pelo Malo' means 'Bad Hair' and Junior is a nine year old growing up in a slum project with his single parent mother. He finds it hard to fit in and is constantly mistreated by his mother; this same mother dotes on his baby brother – who happens to have straight hair. Junior has curly hair – but apparently the absent father is the same for both of them.

His mother works for poverty wages and is not averse to doing anything to get her old job back as a security guard. Meanwhile poverty sticks to everything around Junior like a bad smell in towering estates that are all concrete and hopelessness – he still manages to dream and see some beauty with the help of his little girl friend. He also wants to be a singer with straight hair and will try any old wives tale to make his curls go straight.

This is an unusual film that was said to be a Venezuelan 'Precious' and I can see some parallels but little more than that. It is not a film that will have you 'skyping home' but it will make you think. The cinematography is actually quite good too, but the story did feel a bit padded at times – still it is good to see South America tackling issues of mixed race families, poverty and crime.
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2/10
No story, no message in this movie
juanfelipemrocha15 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
To be honest I was expecting to see more things about the social situation in Caracas. I cannot understand why this movie has won so many awards. It is a film that shows nothing, there is no story to tell here. It is the same Latin cliché but this time without any story to tell. Unnecessary scenes and much time spent in describing situations that add no content to the film.

It is clear that the director highlights that rejection of the mother to her son and his "rare" fixation with his look. What remains unexplained however is the empty script along the movie and sometimes it even turns into meaningless (especially during the visits to the doctor when the mother asks him about the tail her son has on his back and its possible relationship with his strange obsession. It was very very disappointing.
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7/10
"Identity Search"
leslieaddleman4 December 2017
I think that in this movie Pelo Malo by Mariana Rondón shows the problematic of the identity search of the Junior child. At the same time, it touches on topics such as family, childhood, racism, popular culture, and also the social, political and economic situation of Venezuelan society. Junior appears in the film as a poor child of low resources but he wants to look different from what he is, that's why he wants to lace his hair to pretend to be another but. But this brings with it the idea of racism in that society, her mother thinks she sees herself as a woman, not as a man. I think this happens because of the problem that exists in those Latin American countries that have a very old culture rooted in their society, like machismo. Racism is another problem in these countries, people can be treated and judged by just how they look physically. You can also see the desperation of the junior mother to be able to work and that without her work, her children could not eat, a sad reality in these poor countries. In his in this story shows the social reality of Venezuela, and the discrimination that is seen and felt in the streets of this country.
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9/10
Bad Hair Is More Than Just Bad Hair
lrmurray-468654 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Pelo Malo was made in 2013 by Mariana Rondon; the movie follows Junior on his journey of wanting to straighten his hair and his mother's reaction, Martha.

Junior is nine years old and wants to straighten his hair for his next school picture. His hair is very thick with tight curls so Junior tries many ways from oil to mayonnaise to get rid of curls. The movie shows other kids playing basketball, but none of them has curly hair like Junior. His hair also represents the racism between society towards the Afro-Venezuelan population and how he is different from others.

Since caring so much about one's hair appearance is normally a trait of women in almost every country, Marta becomes incredibly concerned that Junior is gay. However, all Junior wants is to straighten his hair and be a singer. His mother does not understand this and goes to the extreme of taking him to the doctor, forcing him to see her having sex with a man, and giving him the ultimatum of shaving his hair or moving in with his grandmother.

In my opinion, I don't think Junior is gay, but it's not my place to judge one another's sexuality. I hold this opinion due to Juniors reaction when his grandmother made the singers outfit as a dress and too much like a girl. Either way, I think Marta should have been more accepting of her son.

The first time I watched the movie, I thought Marta acted this way out of fear of how others in society would treat him if he were gay. The next time I decided she didn't do any of these things out of love. She did it because she was ashamed of him that he isn't manly enough in her eyes.

Even though there are a few awkward scenes and some actions don't make sense to me, I definitely recommend this movie to others. It gives a great look to the inequalities between women and men along with other social problems in Venezuela such as the opinions on homosexuality, racism, and poverty.
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8/10
Good movie, very subtle and interesting
nataliercurtiss22 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Pelo Malo is a subtle, touching movie. The dynamics between the characters are complex and realistic. It is sad, difficult and, for an American audience, appears to be a very extreme situation, but it never crosses the line into feeling melodramatic or overly exaggerated.

The messages of the movie were primarily expressed through movement and imagery. The language, of course, was relevant and told the story, but the interactions between the characters were often indirect, expressed through facial expressions and body movements. The mother, Marta, in particular, expressed her feelings toward Junior in a mostly nonverbal way. However, her dislike of him is made very clear when she avoids him on the bus, when she makes faces at him, and especially when she pretends to be asleep when he is holding her. Though she never says so, it is implied that these negative feelings come both from concern for his well-being and concern for her own reputation. The subtlety with which this is expressed is very impressive. The lack of very direct language regarding her feelings towards him is both a reflection of culture and the family dynamic, and serves to emphasize Samantha Castillo's acting.

The visual environment of the movie is simple. There is a limited color palette and the homes and streets are not glamorous. The buses are crowded with average people. It is clear that the family is struggling and Junior does not appear to have an escape from this community. His dreams of being a singer are his chance to not only live somewhere else, but to be another person; in essence, it is not his family he wishes to escape, but some element of himself. His obsession with his hair is representative of a childlike concreteness of thought. His frustration with his race and upbringing is taken out on one symbolic feature.

All in all, this movie was entertaining, sweet, and sad. The clips of the child singing during the credits helped to lighten what would have otherwise been a pretty heartbreaking movie, without distracting from the message. The acting was excellent, even in the children. It gives a really interesting look at the realities of childhood in Venezuela, and tells a very complete story of one summer in the life of Junior.
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8/10
Differences not Accepted
Pau-palero971 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
We live in a word where differences are not always accepted. Even now days we face discrimination, racism and plain hate for those who are different to what the social norms dictate. The world is slowly changing for better but there are people who want to keep things "the old way", people who don't accept those who are different. This is intolerance to differences is evident in the movie Bad Hair. Junior is a 9-year-old kid living in a department complex in Venezuela. His mother doesn't have a job and she is the only provider for Junior and her little brother after his dad died. From the beginning of the movie we can see the tension between Junior and his mother but we don't know exactly why this tension exists at the beginning. With the course of the movie we can see that Juniors mother does not accept who her son is and therefore neither does he. It is not explicitly said but we know that junior is gay because of his actions. He says he want to be a singer, he has a crush on Mario the guy who works in the store downstairs, his only friend is a girl and the most important one, he doesn't like his "bad hair" (curly). Throughout the movie, we see Junior doing different things to his hair to try to make it straight and every time he does his mom get angry at him. She doesn't want her son to be who he is and it seems like no one in Juniors life accepts him. This is a clear example of intolerance in society today. There are many kids who go through the same thing Junior goes through, not being accepted. Junior has his back against a wall in the movie. He is only 9 and he depends completely on his mom, who he loves very much. He is not giving other option but to deny who he really is at the end of the movie. It is a truly sad story, because we can see how Junior feels, he wants to be himself but we know because of the last scene where junior is standing in the courtyard of his school with his head shaved and emptiness in his eyes, that he will oppress his true self just to make those around him happy, just so his mom will accept him. The movie captures perfectly the dilemma some people go through in their lives and why sometimes they make the decisions they make.

This is a beautifully shot movie with a deep message to those who oppress other and to the oppressed. Is a movie where one is able to connect with the characters and understand their positions. By the end I was angry and sad, I might have cried a little bit a really enjoyable and meaningful movie.
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2/10
If you're looking for intellectual stimulation or an honest commentary of coming of age as a Hispanic/black/mixed person, this is not the movie for you
cutjackedinsanity2 December 2014
I had high hopes for this movie, believing that it would address the issue of finding one's identity and coming of age as a hispanic person, no matter what complexion you are. This movie is the Spanish language version of the movie Precious. The intended audience is mostly likely middle to upper class whites, to invoke empathy and disgust for the plight this boy faces and the abuse he endures from the people closest to him.

This movie has very little to do with "Pelo Malo" or bad hair, and is mostly about a boy who grows up with very little parental supervision or guidance, and always ends up in situations where older adults are trying to take advantage of him sexually and force him into certain abnormal gender roles (aka being tricked into becoming homosexual). I'm probably going to catch a lot of flak here for saying this, but this is a movie about underage sexual child abuse and neglect. If you're into that sort of thing, then this movie is for you(imho, this movie should be banned or come with a stern warning at best). If you're looking for an intellectually stimulating movie that touches on issues of race and coming to terms with one's identity, steer clear of this movie. It will leave you shaking your head. It is a bewildering roller coaster ride of sexual innuendo involving children, and ultimately, very depressing and anti-climatic.
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4/10
A movie with potential, that in the end confuses and disappoints
mcarman-8380325 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Pelo malo focuses on a young boy, known only to the viewer as "Junior", and his impoverished and jobless mother, Marta. Junior's main goal in life is to straighten his hair for a class photo, while his mother's is to get a job and stay alive, a difficult goal in the slums of Caracas. The movie moves between different social commentaries, mostly focusing on sexuality in an impoverished Latin American context. While not all the acting was prime, I will say that I found myself fairly immersed in the plot of the film. From praying to what gods may be that Marta find work, to fearing for the harm that might befall Junior if he were gay, to crying at the hard (and sometimes unethical) decision Marta had to make, to sympathising with the grandmother dealing with the loss of her son in the only way she could, I found that I nearly lost myself in the story. Unfortunately, I felt that the movie essentially ignored the fascinating topic it's title and conclusion implied, that of race relations in Venezuela. Most of the run time was consumed by an odd exploration of Junior's suspected homosexuality, which in the end left the viewer both frustrated and confused. Was Junior gay? Was his mother worried about the possible harm that homosexuality could imply for Junior, or was she just disgusted by this orientation? Honestly, the movie makes it seem like either could be true depending upon the scene. In the end, I found that the movie seemed confused as to its own goals.

Pelo malo is an interesting film. Overall I would rank it very mediocre, and not the gem that reviews online led me to believe it would be. It attempts to explore complex issues of race, sexuality, and classism, all within the context of the turmoil of modern Venezuela; however, in the end the dominant theme is sexuality and the abusive nature of many adults.
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