Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 05, 2017 10:43 am 
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The lost boy

In The Next Skin language is not the problem. After the boy (played by the talented Àlex Monner) is brought back from the French orphanage, he speaks perfectly the Catalan of the Spanish Pyranees. He also seems to fit right in. But is he really Léo, as they called him at the orphanage, or is he rightfully Gabriel, the boy gone for eight years, as is surmised, and as the mother, Ana (Emma Suarez of Almodóvar's Julieta) wants to believe? Gabriel disappeared after the death of his father in the mountains, and may have gone acorss the mountains then, himself, alone. Is that possible? It's hard even to ask these questions, because the film keeps the viewer in suspense, from beginning to end. And that's what it's all about. The film puts Léo/Gabriel through a series of edgy encounters. Every time something happens to him, his possibilities seem to alter a bit. And we watch every move for signs.

The trick - and it is a bit of one - is that the boy suffers from dissociative amnesia. He could be faking memories, or he may just remember parts of his childhood. We also don't know if anyone is telling the truth. Late in the game we learn that the boy has been a bit of a con man - and a wanderer - before winding up at the orphanage. Ana may be lying to herself, because she wants a son back, even the wrong one (lost boys are not often found this long afterward).

Michel (Bruno Todeschini), Léo's mentor and protector at the orphanage, who accompanies him and stays for a while (somewhat suspiciously) to see that all goes well, seems to believe he is Gabriel. But maybe he, like the boy, and like the mother, wants them to settle together. The sour note comes from the lost boy's uncle Enric (Sergi López, an actor who always plays menace and danger well: remember With a Friend LIke Harry?). Enric, who hunts, who prowls around at night, and seems to have moved in and taken the place of the boy's father with the mother in recent years, plainly sees him as an interloper and a threat. He never likes Léo, and takes him aside from the first to say he knows he is a fake and wants him away.

Then there is Joan (Igor Szpakowski), once the lost boy's best friend (or playmate). Whether Joan believes Léo is Gabriel, whether the boy remembers Joan, they hit if off, and then some. Here the film may go a bit too far: but this is just part of how excitement is maintained constantly throughout. The final resolution, isn't, but mystery is maintained in a satisfying way, again with exciting action and with a nice balance of possibilities.

I didn't entirely believe all this, but it din't finally matter, because the way possibilities are teased out or kept in suspension is so interesting, the settings and situations are so natural, and the actors are so alive and adept. It is a game well played.

This story has been related to the factual one described in Bart Layton's 2012 documentary film The Imposter, about the French-Algerian guy Frédéric Bourdin, who was temporarily adopted by a family in San Antonio, Texas as their lost son. Except that there we know. Here we never do. And Léo/Gabriel is more attractive and convincing in various ways. Is he trying to remember, or trying to invent? Monner makes him into a lively blank, perhaps eager, perhaps troubled. And the way his relationships change throughout the film, especially with Michel toward the end, is continually surprising.

The Next Skin/La propera pell [Catalan]/La proxima piel [Spanish] ( Isa Campo, Isaki Lacuesta 2016), 103 mins., debuted Málaga Apr. 2016, where it won a number of awards (Monner's acting has been recognized several times); shown also at least six other international festivals including Barcelona and Karlovy and San Francisco; screened for this review at the latter.
SFIFF showtimes: Apr. 7, 2017 at 3 pm, Yerba Buena Center Screening Room; Apr. 12 at 8:30 pm, Roxie Theater; Apr. 13 at 3:30 pm, Roxie Theater.

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