Neil Young’s Film Lounge – El Bola



aka Pellet : Spain 2000 : Achero MANAS : 90 mins

Admirers of Manass dazzlingly original, boisterously energetic second feature November may be surprised to find that his debut is such a conventional treatment of a standard-issue topic: the tough life of a battered child. Problematic childhood (preferably violent and/or poverty-stricken) has long been the most sure-fire subject-matter for aspiring world cinema directors trying to raise funds for their projects, not least because this kind of material is usually catnip for film-awards juries. And El Bola duly mopped up at the 2000 Goyas (Spains Oscar equivalent), winning Best Picture, Best New Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best New Actor the latter going to the films young star Juan Jose Ballesta.

Ballesta is solid as Pablo, an 11-year-old known as El Bola or Pellet for the ballbearing lucky charm he carries with him at all times. Not that Pablo seems to get much in the way of good luck he’s relentlessly bullied by his short-tempered father Mariano (Manuel Moron), who’s never gotten over the death of his first-born son. Marianos irrational resentment towards Pablo takes increasingly violent forms until the parents of Pablos new best friend Alfredo (Pablo Galan) feel moved to intervene

Well-acted and convincingly accurate in its presentation of bored pre-teen Madrid youth, El Bola barely puts a foot wrong: Juan Carlos Gomezs cinematography is a plus, and for the most part Eduardo Arbides score adds to the mood, with only a couple of intrusive moments. Manas deserves credit for tackling such an important social ill the results are often harrowing, and mercifully much less crude and predictable than, say, Iciar Bollains battered-wife drama Te Doy Mis Ojos, Novembers vastly inferior (but inexplicably prize-garlanded) rival in the Competition at the 2003 San Sebastian Film Festival. But, like Bollain, Manas never tackles the fundamental and lingering problem of violent machismo that ruins the lives of so many Spanish families. This is ultimately a rather low-key treatment of a slightly over-familiar theme anyone who’s heard Suzanne Vegas song Luka will know exactly what to expect.

7th November, 2003
(seen on DVD, same day)

by Neil Young