Joel (Peru): Simple in execution, complex in the issues of discrimination and adoption (Review)

Media Screening
99 Minutes (Drama / Peru)

A low key, powerful and engaging drama that centres on adoption.  From veteran Argentinian Director, Carlos Sorin, the opening scenes centre on piano teacher, Cecilia (Victoria Almeida) and lumberjack husband, Diego (Diego Gentile).  The cinematic and delivery of the script is subtle focusing on the character development.   The direction quickly establishes the yearning of the young couple unable to conceive who have been long awaiting the call from the adoption agency.  But often what one expects will never quite turn out as planned.

The solid performances of Almeida and Gentile are delivered with distinct sensibility in depicting multifarious themes of the script – discrimination and mob mentality in small rural communities, social class prejudice and integration.

A brusque Joel (Joel Noguera) graces the screen bringing with him the effects of life with a now imprisoned uncle.   A sense of realism in the expectations of parents and dynamics when first interacting with a grown child they adopt is simple in delivery but so full of depth.   “Our aim,” the adoption worker memorably reminds them, “is to find parents for the children, not children for the parents”.

There’s an uncomfortable truth in the first interactions with the parents and child, marking much of the Director’s style in conveying character emotion and motivation.  Anxious and excited parents to be will relate with the stages of adjustment so strongly illustrated with powerful moments that the film has no shortage of.   “Shouldn’t I be happier?” Cecilia guiltily wonders.

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The process of getting Joel into the local school is slow and painful, and once he’s in, he has problems adapting. First he steals a cellphone, and then the parents start discussing the bad influence he is having on their kids. “Our children are pure and live in a lovely town,” one mother complains. “Why should they have to put up with him?”

Newcomers to the small town, Diego and Cecilia have been living in the small tightnit community of  the Patagonian village Tolhuin in Tierra del Fuego.   The withdrawn and introverted Joel alarms his friends parents with his talk of drugs and the use of weaponry to his classmates who idolise him.

Up until this point, the entire film spins on an axis championing the case of Cecilia and Diego being singled out by whispers from a small group of parents ringleading a school assembly to have Joel expelled from school.  Sorin’s style of storytelling utilises the vast winter landscapes of Argentina to set the tone of the film while capturing an intimacy with the core characters.

Cecilia takes the lead in defending her son to the group of seemingly insensitive parents, while Diego prefers not to disrupt the status quo.  Their contrasting natures lure us in playing on empathy.

As the script unfolds, the perspectives for and against Joel’s removal are explored comprehensively, in one sense we sympathise with the challenges of Diego and Cecilia who finally live their dream of having a child and then on the other hand, understand the parents who see their child as a bad influence and why.   The motivations go beyond hollow dislike and suspicion as we understand it more as a measure of prevention.

While a compromise is reached, Almeida’s forthright portrayal of Cecilia encounters challenges in following through.  As a mother, trying to stay true to her nature,  we watch as she hesitates….


WHERE:  Dendy Opera Quays – Shop 9.  2 East Circular Quay, Sydney
WHEN:  Thursday 5 September – 9pm

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