You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Behavior’

Cuba's Oscar submission feature is a formulaic but agreeable drama about a veteran teacher's mentorship of a slum boy.

Alina Rodriguez, Arnando Valdes Freire, Yuliet Cruz, Armando Miguel Gomez, Miriel Cejas, Silvia Aguila, Idalmis Garcia, Tomas Cao, Roque Moreno, Anniet Forte, Hector Noas, Aramis Delgado, Amaly Junco, Yoan Angarica, Richard Andrade, Cristian Guerra, Roxana Perez.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3595966/

A dedicated older teacher struggles to keep one tough slum lad from disappearing into the official channels earmarked for those kids with chronic bad “Behavior” in Ernesto Daranas’ drama. This Cuban Oscar submission feature is a bit too formulaic an inspirational tale to attract offshore arthouse sales, but its fest-circuit awards and crowdpleasing nature make it an appealing pickup for broadcasters and rental-format buyers on the lookout for family-friendly, Spanish-language content.

A strutting little macho man at age 11, Chala (Arnando Valdes Freire) has had reason to mature awfully fast: He’s the sole supporter of the Havana household he shares with his slovenly, volatile mother, Sonia (Yuliet Cruz), who appears to be unemployed. (It’s hinted that she may occasionally practice the world’s oldest profession.) In any case, she’s a frequently drunk and disorderly mess who confesses she hasn’t the faintest idea who his father is.

As a result, Chala holds things together as best he can, raising pigeons for sale and keeping hounds for illegal dogfighter Ignacio (Armando Miguel Gomez), who’s also Mom’s occasional squeeze and thus one of presumably many paternity candidates. The sole supportive element in Chala’s life is Carmela (Alina Rodriguez), a grade-school teacher soldiering on well past retirement age, steadfast in her commitment to hard-luck charges like him, in the hope that he’ll turn out better than former students Sonia and Ignacio.

With his crude mouth, trigger temper and a domestic situation on the radar of police and social workers, Chala is already dismissed by many as a delinquent. Only Carmela shows faith, opposing an oft-threatened move to enroll him in a stricter, boys-only “re-education camp.” But her own status is also in peril: Fellow school staff (notably a prissy new teacher played by Miriel Cejas) have begun to think she’s bent the rules one too many times for her favorites. When she suffers a heart attack, they see it as a charitable excuse to put her out to professional pasture — though that would undoubtedly be the worst thing for at-risk Chala.

Daranas and Ania Molina Alonso’s fairly obvious screenplay is conceived in an Afterschool Special mode of social-problem drama, its characters drawn in unnuanced terms. There’s never any doubt that wise, wonderful Carmela knows better than all the younger authority figures combined. The very modest critique of institutional rigidity her character represents (Carmela also gets flack for allowing a student to post a religious symbol in the classroom) would scarcely register in a film from most other countries — and who knows, it may well seem dated by Cuban cinema standards a couple of years from now.

But Daranas’ direction tamps down the script’s implicit moralizing and melodramatic elements by playing everything in an agreeably low-key, naturalistic tenor. (He even pulls off a borderline cringe-worthy junior romance between Chala and a good-girl classmate, played by Amaly Junco, with her own problems at home.) Performances follow suit, to pleasing effect; tech and design factors are pro if undistinguished.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Behavior'

Reviewed on DVD, Palm Springs, Jan. 9, 2015. (In Palm Springs Film Festival — Awards Buzz; 2014 Toronto, Busan, Vancouver, Abu Dhabi film festivals.) Running time: 108 MIN. (Original title: "Conducta")

Production: (Cuba) A Ministerio de Cultura, Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematograficos, RTV Comercial presentation. (International sales: Latido Films, Madrid.) Executive producers, Isabel Prendes, Danilo Leon, Joel Ortega, Adriana Moya.

Crew: Directed by Ernesto Daranas. Screenplay, Daranas, Ania Molina Alonso. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Alejandro Perez; editor, Pedro Suarez; music, Juan Antonio Leyva, Magda Rosa Galban; production designer, Esther Masero; art director, Erick Grass; costume designer, Vladimir Cuenca; sound, Juan Carlos Herrera; casting, Mariela Lopez.

With: Alina Rodriguez, Arnando Valdes Freire, Yuliet Cruz, Armando Miguel Gomez, Miriel Cejas, Silvia Aguila, Idalmis Garcia, Tomas Cao, Roque Moreno, Anniet Forte, Hector Noas, Aramis Delgado, Amaly Junco, Yoan Angarica, Richard Andrade, Cristian Guerra, Roxana Perez.

More Film

  • Jon Voight'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' film

    President Trump to Award Jon Voight the National Medal of Arts

    President Trump will present actor Jon Voight, musician Allison Krauss, and mystery writer James Patterson with the national medal of arts. Voight is one of few in Hollywood who has been vocal about his support of President Trump in the past, calling him “the greatest president of this century.” The White House announced four recipients [...]

  • Zack Snyder arrives at the 2018

    'Justice League': Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Zack Snyder Support Release of 'Snyder Cut'

    Zack Snyder, Gal Gadot, and Ben Affleck have taken to social media to request that Warner Bros. release the Snyder cut of “Justice League.” Snyder, who helmed “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” and was “Justice League’s” original director, had to leave production on the film partway through after his daughter died, with Joss [...]

  • Whose Side Is 'Marriage Story' On?

    Whose Side Is 'Marriage Story' On? (Column)

    Do we choose sides when we watch “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach’s brilliant and wrenching drama of divorce? The question, on the face of it, sounds facile in a dozen ways the movie isn’t. Rarely are there winners in divorce, and there are two sides to every breakup. “Marriage Story” is a movie that reflects that [...]

  • The Letter

    IDFA: Kenyan Documentary ‘The Letter’ Debuts Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given access to the trailer for Kenyan documentary “The Letter,” by producer-director duo Christopher King and Maia Lekow, which world premieres Nov. 23 at IDFA. The film follows a young man who travels to his grandmother’s rural home when he learns she’s been accused of witchcraft. He soon discovers that the threatening letter she [...]

  • Warner Bros. Box Office

    With 'Good Liar' and 'Doctor Sleep,' Warner Bros.' Box Office Misfortunes Mount

    When Warner Bros. was crafting its 2019 slate, the studio took pains to offer more than just superhero movies. To be sure, there were lots of masked vigilantes too, but more than any of its big studio brethren, Warner Bros. was willing to take a risk on the kinds of thrillers, adult dramas, coming-of-age stories, [...]

  • Constance Wu

    Will Constance Wu Ever Watch 'Hustlers'?

    Despite her leading role, Constance Wu has never seen “Hustlers” and, spoiler alert, it’s very unlikely that she will. Wu explained why she doesn’t want to watch the film to Mindy Kaling (“Late Night”) during a conversation for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” “This is crazy,” Kaling said in the beginning of the interview. “I [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    'Ford v Ferrari' Outmatches 'Charlie's Angels' at International Box Office

    Disney and 20th Century Fox’s “Ford v Ferrari” sped ahead of fellow new release, Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels,” at the international box office. Director James Mangold’s racing drama collected $21.4 million from 41 foreign markets, representing 67% of its overseas rollout. “Ford v Ferrari” also kicked off with $31 million in North America, bringing its global [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content