Pavel Giroud’s first feature, The Silly Age, is a quirky, surprising coming-of-age film that will give lovers of Cuban cinema cause for celebration. Giroud demonstrates a talent for creating ambience, as well as for telling a very small, personal story while at the same time commenting on his country’s social and political history.
Havana, 1958, the year that culminates in the triumph of the Revolution. Ten-year-old Samuel (Iván Carreira) has just arrived in town with his recently divorced mother, Alicia (Susana Tejera). They make a striking pair: from their demeanour it seems she is the child and he the adult. They take up residence in the house of his eccentric grandmother Violeta (Mercedes Sampietro), and Samuel is introduced to a new, mysterious world: Violeta’s house has rooms where entry is prohibited and cupboards filled with images of the saints.
The relationship Samuel develops with his grandmother is quite singular. At first it is strained – she is annoyed that she hasn’t heard from her daughter in five years and she is not used to having a child in the house. But she soon discovers a kindred spirit in her grandson, and he begins to help her and eventually overtakes her in her craft as a portrait photographer – an activity that leads to his first experiences with love and with death.
The palette of this expertly shot film is rich and varied; it seems that the same care that Samuel and Violeta take increating their portraits goes into the film’s artistic direction. Giroud is able to recreate the past through very subtle, finely tuned details like Alicia’s wardrobe, reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. The mysterious world that is only possible in a child’s imagination is brought to life on screen: a dark room becomes a chamber of secrets, a doctored photo left on Samuel’s bedside table becomes proof that Violeta can turn him into a cat. Wistful and nostalgic, The Silly Age signals the emergence of a new, creative talent capable of meshing many contrasting themes in order to evoke a time long past.
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