Judge Daryl Loomis likes dreaming, but really wouldn't mind being a kept judge.
I think it's time I took a vacation from my vacation.
By the end of the 1990s, Argentina had fallen into a deep financial crisis that left nearly a quarter of the country's population unemployed. People of all classes were forced to do whatever it took to survive, often turning to drugs and prostitution to support themselves and their families. These are tragic stories, especially when children are involved, but directors Vera Fogwill and Martin Desalvo, in their feature debut, find humor and heart in the story of one young girl trying to grow up under terrible circumstances.
Facts of the Case
Nine-year-old Eugenia (Lucia Snieg) is wise beyond her years. She'd better be: her mother, Florencia (director Fogwill, Evita), turns tricks to buy drugs and has just found out that she's pregnant again. With Florencia gone half the time and drug-addled at home the other half, Eugenia gets support where ever she can. Through these people, she learns to love her mother with all of her flaws and judge her for mistakes she's made.
We've heard the story a thousand times: a precocious child, a bad upbringing, everybody learns something about themselves. Overplayed as it may be sometimes, the coming-of-age story is a good plot convention, especially for less experienced writers and directors. Because everybody has a story about growing up, the concepts are easily relatable and accessible to viewers. Plus, everybody loves kids, right? They say the darndest things, after all, and focusing on the kids guarantees enough laughs and "Aww" moments for everybody to have their heart warmed up a little. The success and failure of such films, then, hinges on whether the kid is worth anything onscreen. Luckily, Fogwill and Desalvo found a fine young actress in Sneig, who acts believably when she's just being a kid, yet is mature enough to pull of a motherly role over Florencia, who can't take care of herself, let alone her daughter. Snieg makes the film, but the diverse female influences in her life make for a pretty good slice of life picture.
In these side characters, Eugenia sees two sides of life, for better or for worse. And they are equally important to her development, for better or for worse. On the negative side, it's easy to see that the people in Eugenia's world are not very good influences. They're desperate people: pimps, addicts, and washouts all. Eugenia is a smart girl, but the lessons she's learning are bound to warp her. For all their faults, however, they mean well and do love and support Eugenia in whatever way they can. The positive side of her upbringing is that she has a family in them in a way she doesn't have with her own blood relatives. Her mother is obviously dysfunctional and her grandmother, a psychologist who has lent monetary support, but at the price of public shame. Eugenia loves her grandma, but doesn't see her and doesn't understand the price she's making Florencia pay. Eugenia's father left a long time ago, but he sends her gifts, keeping himself in her thoughts and causing a glorified impression of him in her head. Believe me, when you meet him, this guy's really not much to write home about.
None of the men in the film are much to write home about though, and this is most certainly deliberate. There are two types here: absentee and, if they're in the picture, loutish drug addicts. The women have to take care of themselves however they can, no matter that this unfortunately means they must humiliate themselves. We feel bad for the women but they display strength after strength, even through their deficiencies. Fogwill and Desilva do this with no judgment or moralization that forces the viewer to accept the situation in the same way as the characters must.
The performances are universally good, with Snieg taking the cake as Eugenia. Everyone else performs skillfully, sometimes frustratingly so as you want them to make the right choices but, as happens too often in reality, their history of mistakes is a pretty clear indicator that they won't. They are believable, even if that makes them often distasteful. For first time directors, Fogwill and Desilva show a lot of potential behind the camera. The shots are assured, the tone is consistent, and the pacing is slow. These two are confident and could be people to watch.
First Run Features, as part of their Global Lens Collection, have released Kept and Dreamless in a technically sound but bare bones edition. The image transfer is solid, with strong colors and deep black levels. The stereo sound isn't quite as good; the volume of the dialog changes quite a bit. It's often too soft, making you turn the sound up, only to have it switch back to a normal level and deafen the viewer. The only extras are a brief statement from the directors and some cast and crew biographies.
Kept and Dreamless is a nice film, filled with quiet laughs and enough emotion to pull a little at the heartstrings without feeling sentimental. Recommended to fans of coming-of-age tales.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• Directors' Statement
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