Diego Luna’s Abel is an unassuming little film that flits between humour and poignancy. For a premise that is really quite sad, the film retains an bouyancy that never allows it to become too downbeat.
Abel, a troubled young boy, returns to his family home following a stay in hospital. At first uncomfortable in his new surroundings, Abel takes on the role of patriarch in the family, his own father having left two years ago. As his family struggle to adjust, a surprise visitor complicates matters…
Abel‘s narrative is fairly straightforward; there are no unexpected twists or divergences. Luna never allows things to get too stagnant, moving the film along at an appropriate pace. Although Abel’s circumstance is rather tragic, it is not obvious which direction the film will take, and how it will ultimately conclude. The climax could have been significantly darker than it is, but thankfully Luna and co-writer Augusto Mendoza do not allow matters to become too lugubrious.
Abel is concerned with the effect absent fathers have on their children. Although the film revolves solely around a single family, it is apparent that there is a wider issue at play. Young Abel is the primary focus in terms of effect, but nevertheless the entire family suffer because of the departing of their father two years previously.
Abel’s mother, Ceceilla, struggles financially to look after her family; her troubles exacerbated by the cost of Abel’s medicine. Oldest sibling Selene juggles her homework and social life with looking after youngest brother Paul. Abel highlights the hardships that face families abandoned by their fathers.
Abel, of course, is rather a unique case. At first withdrawn and unresponsive when he returns home, Abel decides to take on a patriarchal role after seeing one of Paul’s friends and his dad at a parents’ evening. Rather than just assuming responsibilities, Abel considers himself the father of Selene and Paul, in spite of how illogical this is. The film deals with Abel’s delusions with both humour and pensiveness. Abel’s mannerisms and way of speaking generate laughs at times, but his underlying illness is serious.
Christopher Ruíz-Esparza is great as Abel. In impersonating an adult, he manages to nail the mannerisms perfectly. Karina Gidi offers a strong performance as Cecilla. Gidi is highly effective in conveying the wide range of emotions that the character experiences throughout the course of the film.
For his first directorial feature film, Diego Luna exhibits an understated competency. Luna carefully crafts the dynamics of the family relationships in a style that retains intimacy without feeling voyueristic. Use of lighting, sound and editing all appear appropriate in Abel.
With its confused protagonist, Abel could have easily plunged the depths of despair. Instead, the film eschews total bleakness, but there remains a rightfully sombre air to the quirky narrative.