Elamedia will release documentary “La Mala Familia” in Spanish theaters on May 5, following its international premiere this week at Intl. Film Festival Rotterdam in the Bright Futures strand.
The film, the feature debut from Nacho A. Villar and Luis Rojo of the BRBR collective, had its world premiere at the Seville film festival last year. The film, developed at ECAM’s incubator program, is distributed globally by 34t.
Musing on incarceration, community and injustice, the documentary is an unflinching portrait of young men coming to terms with a world that seems to have discarded them before giving them a chance to flourish.
When the central protagonist, Andres, is granted temporary prison leave, his closest friends reunite to celebrate his short dose of freedom. Far from the lives they’ve been living apart, the scenes delicately capture a sympathetic and honest homecoming as they converge on a derelict rural property to indulge in simple pleasures and deep discussion.
Highlighting a community oft-painted with an unjust brushstroke, the film doesn’t give in to enforcing stale stereotypes. Instead, the directors focus on the men dealing with the state of a system that would forgo empathy to toss them to the carceral wolves, their lives amounting to newspaper fodder within a criminal justice framework not set up to rehabilitate but to conquer the spirit of those remanded to its confines.
“We know the kids and we know the truth that each one has, where they come from and what fighters they are. It’s true that some of them may have made a mistake, but you have to understand that they’re typical of an age, a vital environment,” Villar told Variety.
“The problem is how a fight they had at 18 years old continues to cause them problems at 26 years old. It’s also painful how a person can go to prison for not paying the fine that a trial generates. The kids are working class, they get up early in the morning and come home late to build and paint houses, serve in restaurants, clean offices, but it’s not easy to pay bills and the fine at the same time.”
Real-life fast-frame clips from the boy’s cell phone video chats are dispersed throughout more stylistic shots of their get-together, marking the dichotomy of their idyllic retreat and the frenzy of their everyday routines.
In one scene, the camera moves smoothly over the crowd; close-ups linger on tattoos, the summer sun gleaming off their skin, damp from the lake. As they relax, this fine focus recalls their pasts while the slow pace hangs heavy, allowing a certain nostalgia. One young man’s silhouette seems to gently fold into the next in a moment that further solidifies their bond.
“At the direction level, we focused on erasing any cliché associated with the appearance of the kids and we left the neighborhood to be able to focus on the problems from another perspective. There were no written dialogues, rather we discussed the script days before recording and then we generated the situation,“ Rojo commented. “You have to understand that 90% of what you see in the film is real and hardly adulterated. For example, the whole barbecue on the lake was recorded on Andresito’s prison permit.”
The directors are not only involved in the scene that they portray here but also part of the BRBR Collective, a London and Madrid-based creative outfit that work together to visualize unique takes on poignant narratives. The group emerged creating highly vivid music videos and have since been recognized by Cannes and included in the Saatchi & Saatchi New Creators Showcase.
“From a cinematic point of view, co-directing and working collectively enriches us a lot. All the members of our group admire and love each other very much, so sharing ideas with each other and making them come true gives us a lot of confidence in each step,” Villar relayed. “At the same time, we generate networks between ourselves and other groups that interest us on a political or artistic level in order to foster a certain space for debate and convergence in the art world.”
Produced by Javi Tasio (“Project Motherhood”) alongside Madrid and Barcelona’s Blur (“Temporal”), Spain’s Iconica (“El Autor”) and Paris, London and Algiers-based Birth Productions (“Pour De Vrai”), the cutting edge depiction of wayward and redemptive youth achieves a impactful and necessary representation of fraternity as the subjects are able to fully emote.
Their moods run the spectrum, from jubilation and anticipation to grief and a temperamental frustration as dawn turns to dusk above a lakeside rural backdrop. In the end, the film implores viewers to think of punishments that far outweigh their crimes and a population who could never rely on communal support or the tools provided to their peers across the tracks.
Through strife, grief and confinement this group of young men relate wholly with one another even though life has dealt them each different fates. Though their individual situations diverge, they’ll always have a common core, roots that are tough and unbreakable.
“The family you choose is just as important as the one you were born into. Not all of us are lucky enough to have a blood family that’s cared for us, loved us, or understood our decisions,” Rojo noted.
“In ‘La Mala Familia,’ a group of kids are represented who, if they didn’t have each other, in many cases, they’d have nothing. It’s important to generate these bonds with others and take care of them, because if everything goes well there’s nothing like celebrating with the people you love, and if something goes wrong, you’ll have a support group to help you get out of the hole.”