“LA FAMILIA”— A Poor Father and Son

“La Familia”

A Poor Father and Son

Amos Lassen

Financial troubles in Venezuela have brought the nation to the brink of collapse. However, for the wealthy, its pretty much business as usual but for the poor of Venezuela, the effects are devastating. Pedro (Reggie Reyes) is poor. He’s a 12-year-old boy who doesn’t attend school but doesn’t seem to alarm anyone. He lives in one of the more impoverished districts in Caracas. His father Andreas (Giovanni Garcia) is a day laborer, working whatever odd jobs he can find to squeak by. His mother is nowhere to be found and the movie never quite elaborates.

Pedro is essentially growing up without any supervision and runs around the streets with a group of kids, each trying to prove how much tougher they are than the rest. Pedro mostly hangs with Jonny, his best friend. One afternoon they are accosted by a kid with a gun who attempts to rob them of a cheap cell phone they found. Pedro gets into a fight with the would-be robber and it ends badly for the young kid.

When Andreas finds out, he knows what he has to do since the kid that Pedro hurt has relatives who are in the gangs that run the ghetto, and they are going to make an example of both Pedro and his dad. Andreas takes a reluctant Pedro to a different part of the city and tries to earn as much money as he can so that they can get out of Caracas forever.

That isn’t going to be easy. Pedro is headstrong and has zero respect for the work ethic of Andreas. For his part, Andreas is not above stealing some bottles of liquor from the catered parties he works as a waiter at from time to time when his mostly construction work is done for the day and he resells them for a little extra cash but otherwise prefers to walk the straight and narrow and down under the radar. Pedro prefers to take on all comers, bowing and scraping to nobody. Pedro wants to go back to where he belongs; Andreas wants something better and knows he will never find it for himself. Something’s got to give.

This is a character study in that both Andreas and Pedro are given richly developed personalities of the kind we rarely see in movies nowadays. Both Andreas and Pedro are complex and imperfect. Much of the realism of the film is because of how the two main characters are shaped.

The tone is bleak for Pedro and Andreas and for Venezuela as well. Director Gustavo Ronon Córdova gives us a parable for his country from the corruption to the crime to the hopelessness. The realism inherent in this film is sobering and filled with truth. The father-son dynamic is caught perfectly. The life lessons here are hard earned – as they are in real life but some may find this film to be too bleak. There is some violence and profanity as well as sexual content and adult themes.

This is not just a mere indictment of the financial consequences of Venezuela’s near economic collapse but on the dire effects it has on the family. As the two keep on the move seeking safe refuge Pedro does at least for the first time in his life get a sense of how tough life is for his father is as he demeans himself on a daily basis just to earn the few coins that he gets. He also thinks he is tougher than his father insisting that they should have stayed at home and stood their ground, but he changes his mind after discovering that the dead boy’s family had come looking for him and had killed his best friend Jonny instead.

This compelling and shocking movie is a telling testament to the current state of Venezuela which has moved past the point of abject poverty and now breeds a climate where lawlessness is unchecked and street killings are almost become a matter of fact.

There is  a very definite sense of irony naming the film ‘the family’  as the what we witness on the screen is nothing like we would ever imagine as a family, but in the culture that now prevails in Venezuela, this may very sadly become a norm for the people who are confined to living in the country’s slums.

 BONUS FEATURE includes: “Les Misérables” (Directed by Ladj Ly | France | French with English Subtitles | 15 minutes) – A trio of cops acting badly on their neighborhood patrol suddenly realize they are being watched.

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