The Bad Intentions
Credits: Directed by Rosario Garcia-Montero
Synopsis: In 1980s-era Lima, an only child spends her days taunting the housekeepers who look after her and communing with her imaginary friends - a host of long-dead Peruvian heroes. The biggest immediate threat to her is not the homegrown terrorism outside her front door, but rather the imminent arrival of a sibling. Convinced that the new child will bring about her own demise, in this darkly comic coming-of-age story, she takes drastic steps towards self-preservation.
Peruvian upheaval though a child's eyes.
We feel Cayetana’s fear and panic that her life (and Peru) is convulsing in the face of unrest and political disquiet.
SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL: In the movies, as in life, childhood can be a very scary place. The nine-year-old hero of writer-director Rosario Garcia-Montero’s The Bad Intentions is haunted by death and held captive by fear of the unknown. It’s a gripping, sometimes funny, moody drama about growing pains, set in Peru in 1982. It’s a time of social unrest. Guerrilla attacks of the revolutionary group the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) seem to be gathering momentum; but for the film’s characters these upheavals are for the most part remote and when they realise otherwise, it’s too late.
A literate rich kid with divorced parents, Cayetana (Fatima Buntinx) has got a house full of servants, a somewhat unhealthy dose of imagination and a soul full of demons. Full of Catholic guilt and fuelled by superstition, Cayetana’s heroes seem to be all dead: the revered martyrs of Peru’s history; the warriors of nationhood who died fighting The Good Fight. Cayetana occasionally enjoys ‘visitations’ from these figures (in her imagination) and usually after moments of high anxiety brought on by her inability to cope with the emotional stress of an absent father and a mother who doses herself on valium.
But Cayetana is too proud to play the victim; she’s a dark Angel with malice on her mind. Much of the film’s intrigue and suspense derives out of the way Cayetana disrupts her home life in a series of mind games and mischief directed at her pregnant mother Ines (Katerina D'Onofrio) and rather good natured step dad, Ramon (Paul Vega).
This stuff is funny at first. Garcia-Montero takes a lot pleasure in setting up Cayetana as a parody of the ‘evil’ child, a sort of ‘demon seed’. The joke is that this disturbed (and rather sad) little girl is inevitably powerless to change her circumstances. With her serious adult eyes, dark long hair and sullen, swollen mouth, Cayetana looks at times like an undersized ‘witch’ readying to hatch spells – she’s often framed staring out from dark shadows and evading the watchful eyes of adults. When her mother returns from one her frequent trips abroad, Cayetana hides in a cabinet rather than confront her. When she discovers that she has a little brother on the way, Cayetana rips the heads off her pretty dolls – new gifts – packs a suitcase and runs away. It doesn’t do her or anyone else any good since she’s got nowhere else to go.
Things get ugly at home when one of Cayetana’s nasty schemes backfires, and ultimately victimises a former ally – one of the household’s dutiful and kindly servants. The plot evolves into that melodramatic convention; a stand-off between parent and child. But what gives Garcia-Montero’s scenario considerable psychological punch is the film’s emotional claustrophobia, best demonstrated by Cayetana’s conviction that once her brother is born she will die. Since her parents are divorced she’s already convinced that they’re going straight to hell…
Garcia-Montero is very good at describing pre-adolescent angst; its spiritual unrest and sense of isolation. Even when she provides Cayetana with a soul mate of sorts, her cousin Jimena (Kani Hart), it’s a relationship that’s fraught and anxious. Blonde, upbeat, gentle and open, Jimena is physically and temperamentally a stark contrast to her pal. When she gets sick Cayetana’s feeling of doom only increases.
Shot in a style that’s immediate and pretty; the film’s look creates a tone that’s strikingly effective. The light has the delicate and tender feeling throughout of late afternoon…the skin of the actors looks magically soft and vulnerable in it. Foregoing gothic mannerisms – except in the ‘magical realist’ scenes which look like an 80s music video and seem to be initially dumb in a goofy and attractive way – The Bad Intentions manages to be both poetic and earthy.
But there’s nothing especially sentimental or romantic in this vision of a child’s view of the world. We feel Cayetana’s fear and panic that her life (and Peru) is convulsing in the face of unrest and political disquiet. Garcia-Montero cannily inserts images that speak to the influence of the Shining Path on the culture throughout. We see Cayetana’s ride to her up-scale Catholic school and the walls and streets of the poor neighborhoods are daubed with revolutionary graffiti. Later we see a hammer and sickle symbol light up a mountainside.
The Bad Intentions is a movie about the end of the age of innocence for a little girl; her fantasies, her ‘special friends’ help her survive, but in the end she’s got to face the world. She doesn’t have a choice.
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