The line between documentary and fiction is all but obliterated in Alessandro Angelini’s moving look at Nicaraguan street kids, “The Kite.” Heavily influenced by neo-realism and Luis Bunuel’s masterpiece “Los Olvidados,” Angelini treats his subjects as actors, with set-ups more redolent of a fictional cinema verite, a la Dardenne brothers, than the usual docu format. While there’s nothing new in the material, the way it’s used feels remarkably fresh, and Angelini doesn’t milk it for any greater tragedy than is already there. Docu fests will pounce, while chances for a broader arthouse appeal, or PBS, are high.
After meeting with the kids, Angelini scripted a story, but the children themselves made changes, and the dialogue is theirs. Enrique (Luis Enrique Urrutia Laguna) is 14, from an impoverished rural family which sends him away each year to pick coffee beans so he can earn a little more than he would in the exhausted mines where his father works.
When he returns home, his dad sends him off to Managua in search of his elder brother and some kind of self-sufficiency.
The only clue Enrique has to his brother’s whereabouts is an address. He has no sense of the big city or how to find the address, and soon is accosted by a gang of glue-sniffing street urchins. He’s saved by Mario (Mario Jose Rizo), a pint-sized charmer with street smarts.
Mario offers to help Enrique find his brother, but once they track down the address they learn he moved without leaving a forwarding address.
Despite a looming sense of disaster, the tale has a feeling of redemption. Having been lulled into accepting the pic as a work of fiction, auds are called on to adjust their expectations in a surprisingly refreshing way.
The rapport between the two kids holds the pic together. Mario is a born showman, and is beautifully paired with Enrique, who displays quiet dignity. Angelini is careful not to draw anything out too long (at 70 minutes he has no time), and he avoids making either street-life or village labor look picturesque.
Nonetheless, he’s lensed some powerful images, including a memorable shot of Enrique’s mother painstakingly rocking a grindstone to extract a pittance of gold. Quality of DigiBeta gives mixed results, but occasional video feel never detracts from content or method.