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Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle

at Filmhouse Cinema Edinburgh

* * * * -

Endearing portrait of an irresistibly boisterous octogenarian and her family.

Image of Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle

Gustavo Salmerón / Spain / 2017 / 96 mins

Part of the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival 2018

What would a fairytale look like if it was made as a modern documentary? Spanish actor Gustavo Salmerón’s biopic of his eccentric mother surely comes quite close. Julita Salmerón, the madcap matriarch at its heart, is responsible for a hefty sprinkling of fairy dust and wizened charm as she takes centre stage, acting out the role of a real-life, octogenarian Spanish Cinderella whose winsome whimsies win the day, despite some momentary dalliances with darker subject matter.

The title is cleared up in the opening minutes of the film, as a biscuit-munching, coffee-slurping Julita confides the three desires closest to her heart when she was a young woman newly married. The gaggle of children (six in all) and the pet monkey both arrived with relative ease, but the castle itself felt too far out of reach given her family’s modest means. Suddenly, a lucrative inheritance (the details are left deliberately vague) allow the Salmeróns to move into their dream home, complete with classical statues, shining suits of armour and plenty of space for them to rattle around in.

It may all sound a little too good to be true and a little too far-fetched to believe in – but like Julita herself, the story is just mad enough to be authentic. What’s more, reality is never too far away and tries to impose itself on proceedings through more than one sombre event, such as the murder of Julita’s grandmother (eerily symbolised by the woman’s backbone, lost somewhere among all the bric-a-brac which clutters their home), the 2007 economic crash, a robbery at their warehouse and even Julita’s impending death. However, just when any of these tragedies threaten to bury Julita under the weight of their gravitas, a shiny bauble or trinket will catch her imagination and, childlike, all past, present and future troubles are immediately disregarded.

The film is stitched together from 14 years of home footage and paints an irresistible portrait of a charismatic woman who doesn’t let life dictate terms to her. Rather than taking things too seriously or getting bogged down in its constant stream of tiny (and sizable) cruelties, Julita bounces from one adventure to the next, dragging along her hapless family with her. There may be a lesson in that for all of us – but even if not, her restless energy and fickle fancies are a true delight to watch unfold.