Abel Movie Review
Abel (the remarkable Christopher Ruiz-Esparza) is a 9-year-old who's been in a hospital mental ward for the past two years. He returns home not quite healed: he thinks he's his own missing father and starts parenting his big sister (Alejandra) and little brother (Gerardo Ruiz-Esparza). His mother (Gidi) goes along with it out of concern for Abel's mental health, but when his estranged father (Yazpik) returns, things start getting out of hand. And it seems like there are only two options: carry on indulging Abel's delusion or send him back to hospital.
As a director, Luna skilfully maintains a warm sense of humour while stirring in a growing sense of unease about what might happen. The story keeps surprising us along the way, just as events are clearly surprising the characters, which makes us identify with them and travel this strange journey in their company. Luna achieves this with intensely personal camera work and editing, plus production design that's both vividly colourful and realistically earthy.
In his first acting role, Christopher Ruiz-Esparza holds the film together beautifully while Luna and the rest of the cast quietly allow him to develop Abel into an unforgettable little boy. Each actor brings a raw honesty to his or her performance to make this family eerily believable. So when the long-lost dad returns, we feel the shift dramatically. From here things grow increasingly intense, and even if the climactic set piece lacks a gut punch, it's pretty wrenching to watch.
A film about a mentally unstable child could be a difficult thing to watch, but Luna fills each scene with gentle humanity, jagged humour and vivid interaction. He also reveals truths about family interaction in ways that are both endearing and thoughtful. This may be a small film with a quirky story, but it has haunting things to say to all of us. And it marks Luna as a director with rare sensitivity and skill.