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Linus de Paoli [Film Festival 08.17.09] Spain movie review drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Marc Recha
Writers: Marc Recha & Nadine Lamari
IMDB: link
Trailer: N/A
Review by: Linus de Paoli
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

The Catalonian director Marc Recha has been making short films since the late 80s, when he was 18 years-old. Since the success of "L'arbre de les cireres" in 1998, which won him several awards, his films have been shown in Cannes, Locarno and many other festivals around the world. I haven’t seen any of his flicks, so I was very curious when I went to see his latest picture “Petit Indi” which was shown out-of-competition. Screenings on the Piazza Grande are usually the prestigious ones, with at least one big name, a major distributor or some other relevance like a film from the region or about WW2. "Petit Indi" was something else, something very small and intimate.

It tells the story about a 17 year old Catalonian boy called Arnau who has to stay with his aunt because his mother is in prison. The family is very poor and lives in a little hut next to the highway outside of Barcelona. Most of the money he earns doing temporary work he gives to his aunt for food and rent. Arnau’s passion for oscine birds is his only hobby, except for a little fox that he found by the river, more dead than alive. When he and his pet robin win the local birdsong competition, he gets an offer to sell the bird for 10.000 EUR – With that kind of money Arnau could pay a lawyer to get his mother out of jail. But he loves the bird too much and tries his luck on the dog race track.

It is hard to talk about this film without telling the ending, because it has a whole different atmosphere and might even change the way you feel about the characters or the entire movie. I don’t want to give it away, so just a few words: The ending came as a surprise and really dragged me down.

Although the entire story takes place in a very poor area, Marc Recha didn’t want to create a ghetto tale. It is the people he cares about. I saw many similarities between "Petit Indi" and Ken Loach’s beautiful masterpiece "Kes". Both films are about underclass, bird loving boys which don't fall into social drama. The humble protagonist Arnau doesn’t complain about his own poverty. Marc Soto, the boy that plays him, will supposably never be a great actor. But his natural presence, the way he moves and talks a little slower than the others, the way sad way he smiles instantly made me care for him. It’s too bad, that Arnau makes many predictable mistakes, which made it harder for me to identify with him. The other actors, especially the bit players were cast well and appear authentic.

The film is rather plain, tells the story in simple but well selected pictures. It is most likely that it was entirely shot on location, which creates a realistic, down-to-earth feeling. Like in "Kes", "Petit Indi" has incredible animal sequences. The scene in which Arnau finds the fox and carefully cleans his fur is amazing. I don’t know if they used visual effects for the birdsong competition - the bird’s performance is just splendid.

My objections: The film starts and ends with very simple animated sequences. I’m not going to give away the second one, but the first one shows how the robin finds its way to Arnau. These sequences and the music playing alongside are corny and give the impression that this is a comedy, a more artsy version of “Honey, I shrunk the kids”. I had a big problem with the music in general. It even reminded me of “Seinfeld” - it’s too funny and doesn’t correspond with the picture. This must have been on purpose, but I really couldn’t see why. Maybe Recha wanted to point out that the world of Arnau is not all misery.

I’m not sure if it was only because of the music and Arnau’s naïve and fatal behavior, but the film didn’t really affect me. Except for the ending, it felt as if I watched the film from a distance. All in all I would say, it is a film worth seeing, but not a must-see.

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