Making its world premiere next month at the Toronto International Film Festival is a film we will certainly keep an eye on.
Described as a tender but “clear-eyed coming-of-age tale,” the Venezuelan drama Bad Hair (Pelo Malo), written and directed by Mariana Rondon, centers on a 9-year old boy obsession with straightening his own hair, which elicits “a tidal wave of homophobic panic in his hard-working mother.”
What’s interesting about the film from it’s long synopsis is how the filmmaker seems to interweave issues of sexual and racial identity – homophobia and racism – through the eyes of a young boy and his racially diverse family.
In Bad Hair, Junior (Samuel Lange) is harboring a fantasy of becoming a long-haired singer. The boy’s black grandmother (Nelly Ramos) seems to encourage her grandson. Conflict arises when Junior’s mother -who panics at the thought of her son becoming gay- “sets out to “correct” Junior’s condition before it fully takes hold.”
Here’s a full synopsis, courtesy of TIFF:
Junior (Samuel Lange) is a beautiful nine year- old boy, with big brown eyes, a delicate frame, and a head of luxurious dark curls. But Junior aches to straighten those curls, to acquire a whole new look befitting his emerging fantasy image of himself as a long-haired singer. As the opportunity approaches to have his photo taken for the new school year, that ache turns into a fiery longing.
Junior’s mother, Marta (Samantha Castillo), is barely hanging on. The father of her children has died, she recently lost her job as a security guard, and she now struggles to put a few arepas on the table for Junior and his baby brother. She loves her kids, would endure almost anything for them, but she cannot abide Junior’s preening and fussing over his appearance. The boy’s grandmother (Nelly Ramos), however, encourages and nurtures his behaviour; even though she knows why he visits the same newsstand every morning — the one tended by a handsome, slick young man. Junior doesn’t even know yet what it means to be gay, but the very notion prompts Marta to set out to “correct” Junior’s condition before it fully takes hold.
The slippery nature of identity — how it forms in us, the ways it tells us how we might want to look or who we desire — is at the heart of this third feature from Venezuelan writer-director Marina Rondón. At times harsh but often tender, Bad Hair exudes compassion for all involved, even Marta, whose concerns may be grounded in homophobic panic but whose desperation is almost palpable. This is a story of people doing what they feel they have to, partly out of fear, but also out of love.
Watch the intense and provocative trailer below: