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Friday, April 25, 2014

BAD HAIR: Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Review

Photo courtesy of Sudaca Films
2014, 93 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler 

Mariana Rondón's Bad Hair is a powerful, moving, daring film that is a contender for having the most powerful ending of any film at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.  Starting as an amusing, enjoyable coming-of-age story and gradually becoming darker and darker before reaching its surprising conclusion, Bad Hair is a highly unusual film that features two standout performances by Samuel Lange Zambrano and Samantha Castillo.

Bad Hair tells the story of a young boy, Junior (Zambrano), living in a slum in Venezuela who wants to straighten his head of big, curly hair.  His overbearing, harsh mother, Marta (Castillo), however, is afraid that Junior is gay and doesn't want him to straighten his hair.

Rondón's greatest achievement with this film is her uncompromising vision.  There is absolutely no sugar-coating in this film.  Rondón is completely committed to honesty, which makes this a unique vision.  If a film like Bad Hair was made in the United States, it almost certainly would've ended differently and would've been light, funny, and sentimental.  Rondón uses the slum setting to stunning effect, creating an atmosphere of claustrophobia infused with hints of beauty.

Junior isn't accepted and will likely never be accepted as gay in his community and this is a tragic fact of life that Rondón stares right in the face.  Though this film is set in Venezuela, Junior's plight is one faced by young boys and girls all over the world.  Bad Hair is a call for tolerance and acceptance.

Zambrano's performance is extraordinary.  As a child who cannot be more than 12 or 13 years of age, Zambrano gives a performance of depth, maturity, and emotion that is rarely seen in child actors.  Castillo's biggest achievement is making her nasty character sympathetic.  Marta is rough, but her horrible circumstances make her even rougher - we can't help but to feel at least a little bad for her since her husband left her, she has young children to raise, and she has to find a job.  While Marta is a tough character to feel any sympathy for, Castillo brings out the humanity in her by showing her as an overstressed human trying to go on damage control, so to speak, by hiding her son's sexuality since this would make him an outsider in their community.  While we may not agree with Marta's decisions, we can at least understand them to some extent.  The scenes that Zambrano and Castillo share are dynamite, with Zambrano holding his own against the much-older Castillo.

The cinematography for this film is evocative.  It is grainy and rough, almost like a '70s grindhouse film.  This adds texture and grit to the already-grimy slum-set film.

Overall, Bad Hair is unforgettable.  While its pace occasionally lags, that is more than made up for with its jaw-dropping performances, humane script and direction, and fantastic conclusion.  This movie has more to say than many other narrative films at this year's Tribeca Film Festival and is well worth seeking out.


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