Mariana Rondon’s bold and intelligently perceptive film Bad
Hair isn’t really about hair, whether it is straight or coarse; but
about Junior (Samuel Lange), a boy who doesn’t fit society’s conventional mold within gender roles,
especially not in the world of his already overwhelmed and weary mother, who
suspects that her son – who has distinct tastes and flair – has begun to show signs of homosexuality. Junior’s
desire and fixation to envision himself as a straight-haired singer is perhaps
– to his mother’s unrelenting scorn – an escape from reality and the only thing he can really control in his unique world.
In an impressively directed and photographed opening scene,
which stages a portrait of their environment, Junior and a young female
neighbor, who is his only friend, play “I spy” through an apartment balcony, identifying neighbors in their complex from all walks of life: a woman talking to herself; a black man; a woman sitting on the balcony waiting for her son like she
usually does; a graffiti which reads “I love you,” and a couple of kids
playing; “Do you think they are having more fun than us?” the girl asks Junior.
Meanwhile his mother Marta, who’s trying to find a job in a
bleak and stressful urban working class economy in Venezuela, doesn’t have the
resources to foster her peculiar child’s imagination or provide adequate
emotional support. She already lacks monetary funds for Junior to get his
picture taken, and the more he begins hiding in bathrooms and experimenting
with any household oil and grease he can get his hands on, the more conflicted
his relationship with his mother becomes.
Junior is an astute child, who’s very aware and empathetic
of his mother’s distress and daily struggles. It’s heartrending to watch Junior
trying to appease and seek her attention: he helps out feeding the baby; he
sets the table; he gazes at her longingly, even when she rejects him. The
situation signals a turn for the worse when Marta takes the advice of Junior’s doctor
– who sees nothing wrong with him – literally, to unconscionable lengths: Junior
just doesn’t have a paternal figure, and should see his mother in a loving
relationship with a man.
As tensions run high and the drama unfolds, Junior, who has
been finding solace with his very encouraging black grandmother, must make a
decision that will place him at odds with either his grandmother or his mother.
Rondon’s enthralling Bad Hair certainly
challenges your prejudices; your thoughts on Junior’s identity after watching
this provocative and gripping film may very well be a reflection of such. That
was director Rondon’s intentions, after all, accomplished with aplomb. Buoyed
by instinctive performances (especially the powerful Samantha Castillo as
Junior’s mother Marta) and an unnerving score, Bad Hair may just be this year’s
festival foreign sleeper hit.