Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun May 13, 2007 12:15 pm 
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"Big things are happening in this country"

Edad dela Peseta or "silly age" is the term used in Cuba for the pre-adolescent period from the age of seven to the age of eleven. Giroud's stylish, assured period study of this awkward time takes him back to the very moment of the revolution of Fidel Castro, to 1958. The whole film is a bit tongue in cheek. Samuel (Iván Carreira) is ten. He's so sophisticated and handsome-looking it's a bit hard to believe that, but everything is heightened. Samuel is the Rudolf Valentino of little boys. Except that sometimes he still wets his bed. This is Havana as Hollywood. The film is brightly-colored, as tasty as a box of fine candies, but its elegance is tinged with the acid of irony. The writing never pushes its points too hard, and the result is pure pleasure. Coming of age may be a well-worn theme, but there is always room for new variations. Samuel's utter self-possession, defiance, and good looks provide a fresh mix.

Samuel is brought to Havana by his mother Alicia (Susana Tejera), newly divorced--but not for the first time--to live with her long-ignored mother Violeta (Spanish actress Mercedes Sampietro). Violeta is a piece of work. She teases and commands Samuel, tries to intimidate him a little, threatens him with being sent away to school. (He's always in a the white shirt and tie he wears at his Catholic school.) Then rather suddenly he becomes Violeta's protégé. They hit it off. He's as strong-headed as she. She's a portrait photographer; he becomes her assistant. She threatens him to make him work for her, but she needn't; he likes it. Gradually a "nice" relationship between Violeta and Samuel develops. One wouldn't call it "warm," but they're close allies, two of a kind. For him she's a bridge toward good things to come. He's probably at least as grown up as she is.

Samuel also gets to watch "television" of a very special sort that a woman of ill fame shows his classmates--a scene out of Fellini's Amarcord, but like everything in this film, tidier and more elegant. Alicia meets Ramon (Jose Angel Egido), the plump and proper owner of a shoe store, in a weepy movie. They look over at each other, both with tears streaming down their faces, and they know they're a match. She goes to work at Ramon's shop, and eventually they are to marry. Meanwhile Samuel gets increasingly advanced kissing lessons from the television lady's very foxy daughter (Claudia Valdes). (In one of Giroud's more daring conceits, he continues at home in bed with a ceramic head of the Virgin.) He is madly in love with a real woman he meets delivering photo portraits, Violeta's most beautiful model, a movie star named Nuria (Carla Paneca), a gorgeous lady who lives in a nice house and later turns out to be the girlfriend of one of the most famous heroes of the Cuban Revolution.

Samuel isn't particularly enthusiastic about Ramon, but Ramon makes a successful effort to woo him. Ramon is the one who first alludes darkly to the "big things happening in this country," at the time news to Alicia. He's plainly not at all happy about these "big things," so it seems likely he's going to be among those who will flee when the Revolution happens, as it does, finally, with a burst, jump-starting The Silly Age's last section. But we see nothing of it but some historical footage, and a glimpse at Nuria's boyfriend. The film works on its own small scale with an eye for the absurd--implying its "big things" only appear so to the participants--though perhaps hinting that as Samuel slips out of his silly age, Cuba slips out of hers.

Everybody knows Havana has an unsurpassed collection of Fifties cars, and some of the most immaculate of them are seen to good advantage in this film. Everything else is likewise perfectly in period. Giroud's touch is deft. He never lets a scene run too long. He's a surprisingly smart and mature filmmaker. Credit is also due to the cinematographer, Luis Najimias Jr.; the author of the screenplay, Arturo Infante; and the production designer, Maya Segura.

The Silly Age/La Edad de la Peseta was shown at the Toronto festival last September and was a SKYY Prize contender (for first time directors) when shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007. It won the new SFIFF Chris Holter Award for Humor in Film.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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