Built on the hackneyed premise that people in adversity are the true superheroes, "The Incredibles" is itself anything but hackneyed.

Built on the hackneyed premise that people in adversity are the true superheroes, “The Incredibles” is itself anything but hackneyed. Debuting helmer David Valero invites himself and his camera into the lives of three very different protags, and the result is a compellingly intimate, wonderfully human docu that swings smoothly from hopeless tragedy to utter hilarity by analyzing lives under stress. The docu’s combination of humor and heartbreak reps a good opportunity for daring fest programmers.

Recently, Spanish helmers have done good work with the fly-on-the-wall format, perhaps most notably Sandra Sanchez with “Behind the Lights.” Adan Aliaga’s multiple prize-winning 2006 docu “My Grandmother’s House” is clearly one of the inspirations here (Aliaga himself takes an associate producer credit).

“The Incredibles” shuttles with agility between its stories. Its subjects are Maria Moreno, a spirited 94-year-old who supplies most of the laughs; Joana Martin, a thirtysomething mother of two who has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer; and Juan Eulalio Lopez, who lost his arm, and subsequently his marriage, in a traffic accident.

Moreno goes about her daily business, which involves polishing her extensive collection of religious statuettes, bickering with her daughter and delivering some wonderfully surreal dialogue. Lopez records himself on video, as suggested by his psychotherapist, reflecting on how the women he meets tend to reject him because of his missing arm. His story reps a midpoint between the comic/tragic extremes of the others. (Among lots of little human details, the pic unveils the mystery of how a one-armed man cuts his fingernails.)

Martin is seen having fun with her family, including her long-suffering husband. But the docu spills over into morally awkward voyeurism when she tells her hairstylist that she’d prefer not to watch her hair being shaved off, a process the aud can see. But several later scenes are almost unbearably moving, mostly because Valero respects Martin too much to be sentimental about her.

The film’s direction developed as shooting progressed, and inevitably, many scenes have the immediacy of homevideo. The pic’s winningly direct air is the result of crafty work by Valero, who has chosen his subjects well and is happy just to let them be themselves, and editor Aurora Sulli, while ensuring that not a single scene overstays its welcome, neatly teases out the counterpoints and echoes among the three stories. When Martin’s doctor tells her it’s important to stay optimistic, Moreno’s irrepressible optimism immediately springs to mind.

On the downside, the project’s rebranding of its protags as “The Iron Lady,” “Broken Wing,” and “Radioactive Woman,” respectively, feels like a contrived and unnecessary attempt to yoke the stories together after the fact.

The Incredibles

Documentary - Spain

Production

A Frida Films, Salto de Eje production. (International sales: Tree Line Distribution, Santiago de Compostela.) Produced by Luisa Romero, Juanjo Gimenez. Directed, written by David Valero.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Valero; editor, Aurora Sulli; music, Vincent Barriere; art director, Kamestudio; costume designer, Marisa Urruti; sound (Dolby Digital), Cinemar Films. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (New Directors), Sept. 24, 2012. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Maria Moreno, Joana Martin, Juan Eulalio Lopez.

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