SIFF Double Feature – Rubén Blades Is Not My Name and Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle
Rubén Blades Is Not My Name: My Anglo husband likes to make fun of me for my Rubén Blades love. HE JUST DOES NOT GET IT. OR ME. I mean, mostly he does. But not this. He just thought of Blades as some character actor in Predator 2 or The Milagro Beanfield War. And yes, he was in those movies. But for many people in the Spanish-speaking world, this Panamanian singer/actor/writer is THE SHIT. Here are some of his accomplishments: he has a law degree from Harvard, he is an extremely popular singer/songwriter who is not afraid to bring social issues into his music, he has a successful acting career (I am partial to Crazy From the Heart with Christine Lahti), he once ran for president of Panama, and was the Panamanian minister of tourism for five years. He’s the complete package as far as being an interesting person.
Abner Benaim’s new documentary, Rubén Blades Is Not My Name, gives an overview of Blade’s career as he winds down to start a new chapter in his life. (I think he’s going to run for president of Panama again.) Blades says he has more life behind him than in front, and wants to spend his remaining years doing something meaningful besides singing onstage. This film is great for those who have limited knowledge of its protagonist, but doesn’t go particularly deep. When Blades addresses his reasons behind doing the movie, he brings up Prince and his lack of a will. Blades wants his ideas to be perfectly clear, and this movie is a part of it. And it feels very much controlled by what he wants to be seen. We are privy to what he chooses to share and not much else. It still makes for an interesting film, but it does feel very much on message. (As if, perhaps, he was planning to run for a political position.) The most interesting part to me was when we got to see his collection of comics and toys, and he shares the influence of his life-long love of comic cooks on his song writing style. But he’s an engaging guy, and there’s enough here about his life and career to make it a worthwhile watch.
Final Grade: B+
Rubén Blades Is Not My Name plays at the SIFF Cinema Uptown on May 27th and SIFF Cinema Egyptian on June 5th.
Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle: Once upon a time, there was a young woman who longed for three things: a large family, a pet monkey, and a castle to live in. Surprisingly, all three of those things came true. (Really, only the castle seemed kind of unachievable.) But, the monkey ended up being a biter, and the castle became unaffordable during the 2008 economic crisis. But her six children (and very patient husband) remained throughout it all, and her son, director Gustavo Salmerón, manages to capture his mother Julita’s ups and downs in this film with a lot love and laughter.
This is a fun, if rambling, account of Julita Salmerón’s late life in the castle and after, when they are forced to movie to another house in Madrid. (Her kids love her so much they agree to help her move. She has a lot of stuff. A LOT OF STUFF. I don’t know that I love anyone that much.) At one point in the film, she opines to Gustavo that no one is going to want to watch a movie about her, because she’s not the stuff films are made of. Which is not exactly true. She’s the kind of eccentric that makes for good viewing. Forthright in her opinions and determined to do things her own way, she’s made her life and that of her children interesting to say the least. (For example: she wants to be buried in a nun’s habit and makes her family do a run through on camera. Even though they are embarrassed, they do it for her.) My only complaint about this film is the haphazard way the story is presented; it’s more a series of disjointed impressions rather than a cohesive whole. There is a bare bones through line story, which is the search for Julita’s grandmother’s vertebrae. She was murdered in the Spanish Civil War and when the family collected her bones for burial, her husband kept some of them. Do they find the mysterious bones? What happens to Julita’s suits of armor? And just exactly what is the story of the monkey? I think it’s worth a watch to find out.
Final Grade: B
Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle is playing at AMC Pacific Place on May 28th and 29th.