David Planell’s thought-provoking debut “Shame” tells the story of a troubled day in the life of a troubled couple with a troubled adopted kid. Posing its moral question — should a family be able to return a child after adopting it? — with elegance and perception, this solid drama is buoyed by a well-observed script and alert perfs, while the limited time-frame lends an intensity. However, much good work is undone by a rushed, soapy final reel. Pic took best film and script at the recent Malaga fest: At the least, fest prospects look good.
Pepe (Alberto San Juan) and Lucia (Natalia Mateo) have adopted a sullen, hyperactive 8-year-old Peruvian boy, Manu (Brandon Lastra): They are his third family, and the boy, a victim of bullying, is given to removing Pepe’s beloved goldfish from their bowl.
Manu puts a huge strain on the couple’s relationship and on their professional lives. They are afraid of him, and Pepe’s general nervousness is compounded by his suspicions that their maid Rosa (Norma Martinez) has been pocketing items from around the house.
Pepe considers talking to social services about returning Manu to them — hence the “shame” of the title. Lucia disagrees with him, though they do concur that Manu gets along better with Rosa — who’s also Peruvian — than either of them do. (Crucially, San Juan makes sure Pepe never loses aud sympathy on this score.)
As the couple is interviewed by social worker Irene (Marta Aledo), Pepe becomes increasingly irascible as she weasels some unpleasant truths out of them.
Meanwhile, Rosa has taken Manu to a birthday party where we learn a remarkable revelation that the script handles entirely convincingly.
The pic sharply juxtaposes the compelling with the uncomfortable. In the early scenes, the script well details the small but cumulative stresses of domestic life, generating interesting viewing from unpromising material.
Much depends on the dynamics of the Pepe-Lucia tandem as a couple teetering on the edge of crisis, and two different acting styles are counterpointed — San Juan restless and exaggerated (and providing the odd moment of comic relief), and Mateo much more contained.
Sometimes-lengthy dialogues are rarely dull. Tension between the man and wife is explained in the film’s final, somewhat contrived 15 minutes as they reveal secrets they’ve been hiding from each other.
The piano-based score is appropriately understated. Pic’s one attempt at the symbolic is badly misjudged, exploring the metaphorical possibilities of goldfish.