Diego Luna
2011, Canana
85 minutes (Spanish)

LATAMROB rating: ***

THERE are many absent fathers in Mexican families, and not just those who have absented themselves to make the sweaty journey across the northern border in order to scrape a living in their unforgiving and hostile neighbour. Paternal absence has other faces: for daughters who are brought up in macho families never really knowing what lies in the hearts of their distant, authoritarian fathers; for sensitive sons, unable to reconcile the warm familial hearth with the endemic philandering of the timeworn male role model. Abel, a small gem by the gifted actor-director Diego Luna firmly in the tradition of penetrating domestic and social analysis in Mexican cinema, follows the fate of a silent, nine-year-old boy (Christopher Ruíz-Esparza) suffering mental illness in a family whose father has been absent for some time, ostensibly working in the US but, in reality, deceptively starting a second family (the well known “casa chica”) in the north of Mexico. The boy suddenly begins to talk, assuming the distinctly paternal air and expressions of a proxy father. The tragicomic film explores the impact of machismo on male children and how families struggle to cope with errant fathers: both highly relevant to the Mexico both of yesteryear and today. Luna reveals a penetrating insight and acute sensibility about fatherhood, one no doubt shaped by his own experience of growing up in a single-parent family with a deeply attentive and highly creative father. – EC

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