|Julita and her monkey: a dream come true.|
Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle (2017)
Dir. Gustavo Salmerón
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Julita had a dream. As a young woman, her fairytale needs were simple. She wanted a whole passel of kids, a monkey and a castle.
She got them all.
Julita was always a pack rat, so when she inherited a castle from a wealthy uncle, there was finally a place big enough for the middle-class seventy-something woman to store her vast accumulations. The castle, of course, came with its own fair share of clutter; as it turns out, centuries worth of arcane impedimenta.
When Julita mentions to her son (director Gustavo Salmerón, also a Spanish actor of note) that somewhere amidst the debris there exist two vertebrae belonging to his great grandmother (who died tragically during the Spanish Civil War), the picture has a strangely irresistible element to drive it forward. Salmerón had already started shooting this personal documentary about his vivacious Mom (it was shot over the course of a decade) and this happily gave him (and his film) plenty of time to become obsessed with locating this curious family heirloom.
Luckily, for the movie (and the audience's edification/entertainment value), but not so lucky for Julita and her quiet, unassuming husband, the financial crisis hit Spain and much of the documentary charts the mad rush to pack and move all the belongings in the castle which will be lost to whopping back taxes. With help from her six children and Julita's complete lack of organizational abilities, the film charts both the massive job of packing and shipping, but also the search for the elusive vertebrae.
Along the way we're treated to this mad passionate woman's relationships with her family and we get the alternately perky and melancholy tale of, yes, the monkey.
Personal family documentaries can prove to be a mixed bag. Depending upon the subject matter, they can be deadly. Salmerón was canny enough to know his Mom was an ideal subject for a movie, in spite of her on-camera protestations that nobody would be interested in watching an entire film about her. The dutiful son (and filmmaker) proves his Mother wrong on that point. Not only is she endlessly, eminently compelling, but the social/political backdrop of class and economic catastrophe proves to be an unbeatable combination. The amount of footage Salmerón must have had to contend with is skillfully edited and yields a jaunty, funny, incisive and poignant portrait.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars
Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle screens at TIFF 2017