×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle’

A bustling, loose-limbed portrait of actor-director Gustavo Salmerón's large family, especially his unforgettable mom.

“This is not what people want to see in a film,” asserts Julita to her son, Gustavo Salmerón, who is filming her for what must be the umpteenth time over the course of 14 years. She waggles her finger, “I know what people like, and it’s not … this.” She’s wrong about that though, which is unusual for her. The indomitable, garrulous, fanciful septuagenarian Julita is many things — aggravating, mercurial, delightful, impossible — but she’s rarely wrong. As if to prove her so in this case, however, her son’s film, of which she is the undoubted star, took top prize in a strong Karlovy Vary documentary competition, having played to a rapturously approving response even during its press screening. Family history documentaries tend to be a bit of a hard sell, but “Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle,” is destined to please crowds wherever it can find a foothold on the festival circuit, all because of the irrepressibly oddball and frankly hilarious matriarch around which it revolves.

There’s something a little bit magic about Julita, something of the fairytale — perhaps that’s her son’s dazzled but sardonic affection transmitting itself through the various cameras (the film cuts between Super 8, digicam and even iPhone camera footage, all chopped down to boxy Academy ratio). But then Julita does physically resemble a live-action Hayao Miyazaki character: one of those mystical grandmothers with inquisitive, mischievous eyes and benign wrinkles. And she has a magical incantation: the title refers to the three wishes Julita recalls making as a newlywed: She was convinced all she needed to be happy were lots of kids, a monkey and a castle.

Six children later (Gustavo, a fairly well-known Spanish actor, is the youngest), Julita and her beloved husband, who is usually seen bustling about in the background, quietly exasperated, were living comfortably if not lavishly, and found their monkey in an online ad. Then, some time after, as though with the wave of a wand (the film is vague on specifics but a large inheritance is mentioned), they became very wealthy, and Julita finally got her castle. This is not a metaphor; it’s a literal castle — a centuries-old, crenelated stone building, set on verdant grounds and furnished with chandeliers and tapestries and suits of armor.

It’s a large dwelling, of many rooms and passageways, but over the course of her time there, inveterate hoarder Julita has managed to cram every corner with junk. Broken sports equipment, rain sticks, a kids cowboy outfit, dozens of broken umbrellas, boxes neatly labeled “Santa hats”: it seems she never throws anything away, which makes finding any one thing a quest through a treacherous sea of paraphernalia. And it gives Salmerón’s jauntily ramshackle film its very loose shape. Amid all the mess, he’s preoccupied with finding a macabre memento of his great-grandmother: two of her vertebrae, which his mother has told him are rattling around somewhere.

During the decade and a half of filming, the worldwide financial collapse happens, and Julita is forced to sell her beloved castle. The six children, and their children, come to help pack up, and Julita expounds further on everything from her politics (vague, muddled) to her marriage (both pragmatic and sentimentally romantic) to her philosophy on life and death (dizzyingly changeable). And there are moments that hint her eccentricity has a darker side. Sometimes, out of nowhere, her bright, quicksilver mind will snag on some sadness and she’ll suddenly declare, “I am not the woman I’d like to be,” or dramatically exclaim, “No wonder I am the way I am! I was breastfed on my mother’s tears!”

But  “Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle,” though it depicts the family falling on hard times and Julita tut-tutting about her “suffering,” is primarily a film that overflows with affection, warmth and humor, about a highly dysfunctional but deeply loving clan. In “Anna Karenina,” Tolstoy famously declared that “all happy families resemble one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But Salmerón’s film, crammed as full of tchotchkes and knick-knacks and bibelots as one of his mother’s closets, refutes that, presenting an endearingly haphazard portrait of an extraordinary woman and the family she made — one that has discovered its own, completely unique way to be happy.

Film Review: 'Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle'

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (Documentary Competition), July 5, 2017. Running time: 91 MIN. (Original Title: "Muchos Hijos, un Mono y un Castillo")

Production: (Documentary — Spain) A Gustavo Salmerón P.C. production. Producer: Gustavo Salmerón.

Crew: Director: Gustavo Salmerón. Screenplay: Salmerón, Raúl de Torres, Beatriz Montañez. Camera (color): Salmerón. Editors: Raúl de Torres, Dani Urdiales. Music: Mastretta.

More Film

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild, Hollywood Agents Negotiate With Deadline Looming

    The Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents have held a sixth negotiating session with a deadline for a new deal 16 days away — and it’s uncertain whether progress is being made. The Association of Talent Agents made counter-proposals at Thursday’s session that contain provisions for more accountability and transparency by agencies for clients [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Fox Layoffs Leave Staffers Stunned and Saddened

    Fox employees knew this day was coming. For over a year, the men and women who work at the Century City lot have talked of little else but severance packages and job searches. They knew that when Disney wrapped up its $71.3 billion acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets, thousands [...]

  • Alan Horn Disney

    Disney Clarifies Film Leadership After Harrowing Day of Fox Layoffs

    Following the dismissal of top executives in distribution, marketing and strategy on Thursday, new 20th Century Fox owner Disney has clarified its new top leadership. Five distinct Fox labels and a portion of their leadership have been welcomed into the Disney fold, the company said. This includes Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Family, Fox Searchlight Pictures, [...]

  • Janelle Monae

    Film News Roundup: Janelle Monae to Star in Film From Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz

    In today’s film news roundup, Janelle Monae will star in a Lionsgate movie, Bill Nighy joins “Emma,” and documentaries on surfer Bethany Hamilton and Asbury Park are dated. CASTINGS More Reviews Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud' Off Broadway Review: Daveed Diggs in 'White Noise' Janelle Monae will star in an untitled Lionsgate movie directed by the [...]

  • Blair Rich Marketing Summit

    Studio Marketing Chiefs Discuss the Theatrical vs. Netflix Oscars Debate

    On a day where a large part of the Fox marketing department was wiped out in the aftermath of the Disney merger, a group of marketing chiefs from other studios and streamers sat down at the Variety Entertainment Marketing Summit presented by Deloitte “to discuss the issues shaping the feature marketing landscape today, including the theatrical [...]

  • Paul Feig Heads to Universal From

    Paul Feig's Feigco Entertainment Jumps From Fox to First-Look Deal at Universal

    Universal’s comedy constellation just added another star, welcoming Paul Feig from 20th Century Fox Film on Thursday. Universal has set a first-look production agreement with Feig’s Feigco Entertainment, bringing in the prolific producer, writer, and director known for hits like “Bridesmaids” and the recent “A Simple Favor.” More Reviews Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud' Off [...]

  • The Fault in Our Stars

    Disney Retiring Fox 2000 Label

    Disney will stop making films under the Fox 2000 label, a move that could mean that its head Elizabeth Gabler will not be making the move to the Magic Kingdom, Variety has learned. The decision is surprising because Disney had previously stated that Gabler would stay on board at the studio even after it was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content