Film-Forward Review: [GOODBYE MOMO (A DIOS MOMO)]

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Rusito (Marcos de Costa), left
Mathias Acuña as Obdulio
Photo: ArtMattan Productions

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Written & Directed by: Leonardo Ricagni.
Produced by: Raul Pochintesta.
Director of Photography: Pablo Vera.
Edited by: Marcela Sáenz.
Music by: Emilio Kauderer.
Released by: ArtMattan Productions.
Language: Spanish with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: Uruguay. 108 min. Not Rated.
With: Mathias Acuña, Jorge Esmoris, Marco Da Costa, Washington Luna & Carmen Abella.

In Montevideo, it is Carnival from early December to Easter, and the neighborhoods are full of rehearsing Murgas, commedia dell’arte-like troupes in Harlequin-type costumes that each year competitively perform new songs. Here, a dancing Pierrot mime could lead a small boy on a 40-day magical adventure, at least as writer/director Leonardo Ricagni charmingly leads us to believe.

As the man of the house, 11-year-old Obdulio (feisty Mathias Acuña) drags himself out of bed each morning to work long hours hawking newspapers on the street to support his grandmother and two sisters. Despite his illiteracy, he tries to not get cheated of his meager pay by the distributor and bullies, while enjoying brief play time between sundown and night with his Jewish best friend Rusito (Marcos de Costa). At home, his grandmother brings in additional income by chanting traditional prayers for neighbors, so Obdulio is primed to follow, with a touch of Fellini, the mysterious Momo, the patron deity of Carnival.

The mime leads the boy first to a tavern presided over by Washington Luna (in real life a noted Carnival performer and recording artist), where the Murga troupe practicing there adopts Obdulio as their equipment manager. While at the newspaper plant, the twinkling night watchman Barrilete (an unshaven Mary Poppins-like Jorge Esmoris) wiles away the time writing lyrics and entertainingly convinces Obdulio of the power of literacy. Though the boy will suffer realistically sad losses, he copes through one of the most magical affirmations of words and reading since The NeverEnding Story, as lyrics are exuberantly combined with music at the end of the holiday.

In addition to a marvelous diversity of celebratory selections on the soundtrack, including songs by Celiz Cruz and Jorge Drexler, Emilio Kauderer’s irresistibly buoyant, percussive score incorporates multicultural influences from klezmer to tango, and helps sustain the magic realism throughout. Pablo Vera’s warmly saturated cinematography, particularly of night scenes, is lovely, but even beautiful sunsets and streetscapes get repetitive as the days of Carnival stretch out.

Though the closing credits begin with a tribute to street kids, it is a relief that the neo-realistic aspects are nowhere as desolate as Hector Babenco’s Brazilian Pixote. And it is refreshing to have a holiday movie that embraces alternative spirituality, family, poetry, and music that doesn’t stereotypically take place at Christmas; the credits close with good wishes for the joyous spirit of Momo to light up your life all year long. Nora Lee Mandel
April 20, 2007



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