Dir. Xavier Bermudez.Spain. 2004. 112mins.
A coming-of-age picture with a difference, Leon And Olvido, XavierBermudez's tale of an adolescent afflicted with Down's syndrome and hisinfatuation with his older sister walks a narrow path between bad taste andhigh melodrama. Thankfully it manages, almost until the end, to avoid slippinginto shoddy predictability and mushy sentimentality.
Although it exudes stronglyincestuous, erotic undercurrents, Leon And Olvido never indulges intoanything more explicit than showing brother and sister sharing a bath together.Instead its exploration of the darker aspects in the relationship between thesiblings is all done within a simple, straightforward, credible narrative.
Moreover, writer/directorBermudez, goes one step further, attempting to correct prejudices about peoplewith Down's syndrome and insisting that they should be treated like anyone elsetheir age.
The film took the bestdirector and best actress awards in Karlovy Vary at the weekend and this,combined with a special jury prize at the Spanish Film Festival in Malaga, addsignificant points to a picture that should do well at festivals and beyond.
Leon (Guillem Jimenez) hasmade a nuisance of himself in every institution that has taken him on. He lockshimself in his room, doggedly refuses to respond to any kind of treatment,sulks and asks for only one thing: to go back to his slightly older sister,Olvido (Marta Larralde).
It is not exactly whatOlvido has in mind. Since both their parents died, leaving her a flat and acar, she has barely been able to make ends meet with her meagre pay as atemporary seamstress. Her own life is hardly in order, what with a boyfriendwho refuses to make a living for himself or be more committed to theirrelationship, a job she might lose at any time and now a handicapped brotherwho insists on hanging on her neck and expects to be the sole focus of herattention.
Torn between fraternal duty,financial straits, romantic disappointment and the strong urge to get away fromit all, she is tempted to rid herself of the petulant Leon and even commitsuicide, after she realises she hasbeen cheated yet again by the man who offered her a job as a sales girl andthen bedded her.
Leon, undergoing the naturalsexual awakening of any adolescent of his age, is not sure how to handle it.The one thing he knows is that he prefers his pretty sister to the girls in thespecial school he attends, who all have the same condition as himself. He iscompletely oblivious of Olvido's problems, leading to frequent confrontationsbetween them that are a source of irritation for both.
Only when he realises thathis resistance to becoming independent, as his sister demands he do, iscounter-productive, does he finally give in and show he is quite capable totake care of himself.
Bermudez' other issue hereis that Down's syndrome should not be a reason for preventing people like Leon,from having a normal life, as clearly indicated in his relationship with hisschoolmates, one of whom is brilliantly about to launch into a career of hisown.
Told in a classic,conventional manner, but always leaving enough margin for the audience'simagination to fill in the gaps, the picture was shot in Galicia, a part ofSpain that hasn't been too popular with filmmakers in the past, but offers inthis case some spectacular cliffs that are essential to the plot.
Often paying as muchattention to secondary parts as he does to his protagonists, Bermudez refusesto go for simple, one-dimensional definitions and even his villains havesomething likeable in them.
Marta Larralde, as Olvido,is effortlessly sexy while effectively brooding and despair in her sunniermoments. She turns out to be the kind of perceptive actress whose body languageis as expressive as any lines of dialogue that she has to deliver. Jimenez isthe living proof, if any was needed, that Down's syndrome is no impediment fora persuasive screen performance.
Prod cos: Xamalu Filmes, El Paso, TVG
Int'l sales: El Paso
Prods: Oscar del Caz, BeatrizNavarrete, Xavier Bermudez
Scr: Xavier Bermudez
Cine: Alfonso Sanz Alduan
Ed: Javier Alberto Correa Harley
Prod des: JacoboEcheverria-Torres
Music: Coche Villanueva
Main cast: Marta Larralde,Guillem Jimenez, Gary Piquer, Mighello Blanco, Jaime Vazquez, Rebeca Montero