Cuban director Pavel Giroud’s feature debut is a sensual confection. Unusual here is that the clichéd vision of 1958 Havana, tipping from decadent dictatorial hubris toward revolutionary possibilities, is stripped of visual operatics and rendered on a far more human scale. Family becomes the stand-in for a country, specifically a family whose mundane dysfunction circa 1958 is mourned as a lost ideal after being torn apart. The “silly age” in Cuba refers to a boy’s emergence from the narcissistic cocoon of childhood into adolescence. Ten-year-old Samuel lives with his single mother and eccentric grandmother
(played with exquisite emotional precision by renowned Spanish actress Mercedes Sampietro), who just might be able to use her magical powers to turn him into a cat. In his grandmother’s house, with its forbidden room, sacred secrets and images of saints, Samuel contends with desire and disillusion, while the outside world shines with the glamour of possibility. In a pivotal scene, Samuel’s mother, yearning for romance and security, reaches out to touch the sublime architecture of a rich man’s shoe, as if material splendor can fulfill her emotional needs. Her transgression leads to a personal compromise that marks
Samuel’s coming-of-age and Cuba’s swift transformation from romantic idealism to harsh reality. With a sensitive directorial touch, atmospheric cinematography and memorable performances, The Silly Age renders provocatively the transformations of coming of age, both for a child and a country.