An accomplished feature debut for director Pavel Giroud and scenarist Arturo Infante, “The Silly Age” is a charming coming-of-ager set in 1958 Havana, just prior to La Revolucion. Pic treads familiar storytelling terrain, but is pleasant and stylish enough to win over auds for accessible arthouse fare. Its novelty these days as a rare salable dramatic feature from Cuba (if one requiring multinational finance) should also open doors, particularly in Spanish-language markets.
Evidently having left the latest in a string of husbands, pretty, flighty but no-longer-young Alicia (Susana Tejera) lands with 10-year-old son Samuel (Ivan Carreira) on the doorstep of the mother she’s barely communicated with. Violeta (veteran Spanish star Mercedes Sampietro) is hardly ecstatic about their arrival. She informs Samuel “I don’t like children,” and lets Alicia know in no uncertain terms that she’s been a disappointment.
Nonetheless, cohabitation is sorted out in the roomy inherited manse where Violeta ekes out a living from the family’s longtime trade: As a photographer who flatteringly retouches B&W portraits with color crayon highlights. One customer is ravishing local film star Nuria (Carla Paneca), who has secret reasons for having private cheesecake photos taken of herself. Already familiar with her face from Alicia’s gossip mags, Samuel falls in deepest puppy-love once he sees the real item.
For all its fabled licentiousness, pre-Castro Havana here is also a prim place where Alicia’s job prospects are dimmed by her status as a multiple divorcee. Luckily, she meets burly, kindly Ramon (Jose Angel Egido), who offers employment at his upscale shoe store — as well as the prospect of yet another husband.
Floundering in school, Samuel finds more compelling pursuits working as Violeta’s assistant, stalking glamorous Nuria, and getting kissing lessons from the sweet but sickly teenage daughter (Claudia Valdes) of a slum-dwelling prostitute. Only overheard radio snippets and archival docu footage (which bookend the pic) suggest the imminent upheaval of life’s rhythm in Fidel, Che and company’s march toward the capitol.
Script’s core is the predictable, gradual thaw between child protag and not-so-harsh-after-all grandma. If the final impact is less emotionally charged than intended, Giroud and Infante still deserve credit for a restraint that avoids cheap laughs or maudlin sentiment. Instead, they view flawed characters though a deadpan lens, with the odd fillip of outright absurdism.
Adult perfs are very good. Newcomer Carreira is a tad inexpressive, but the pic actually makes good comic use of that in scenes of his blank-faced longing for the unreachable Nuria.
Era is evoked in modest but effective ways, with Vivian del Valle’s sharp production design and Luis Najmias Jr.’s lensing creating a creamy, pastel vision of the past that’s like a slightly toned-down version of “Far From Heaven’s” retro-delirious color palette. Period pop tunes add soundtrack flavor. Tech package overall is smooth.