Leonardo Ricagni's aggressively whimsical coming-of-age story is set during Uruguay's marathon carnevale, which lasts a full 40 nights and features roving groups of street musicians — murgas — who dress in outlandish costumes and sing topical songs that comment on the absurdities of everyday life.
Illiterate, 11-year-old Obdulio (Mathias Acuna) is shouldering more responsibility than any child so young should have to bear. He's the sole support of his family, which consists of his grandmother and two younger sisters. Obdulio wants to grow up to be the captain of the Uruguayan national soccer team, but his prospects are grim: All he does is work and dodge bullies who steal his money and his newspapers, and his only friend, Rusito (Marco Da Costa), will soon be moving away with his mother. Obdulio's grandmother (Carmen Abella) is a mystic, but she's also a realist — she begs Obdulio to go to school so he won't have to spend the rest of his life hawking copies of El Pais for exploitative vendor Armenio (Marcel Keoroglian). But Obdulio doesn't see the point in studying until he meets the poet Barrilete (Jorge Esmoris), who works as a night watchmen at a newspaper printing plant and writes murga songs on his battered typewriter. In the guise of the spirit MoMo, who looks annoyingly like a mime with a tambourine, he guides Obdulio to a murga called Illusions Conspiracy, whose members adopt the boy as a sort of mascot. Barrilete then catches Obdulio's attention with his murga songs, which the boy learns to write out in longhand; he then delivers them secretly to his new friends.
Carnevale brings out the latent magic realist in filmmakers, and Obdulio's story is nearly smothered by the clowns, colored lights, dancing women, costumed players and shots of clouds scudding across the waxing moon. That said, little Acuna — who looks even younger than 11 — gives a sweetly unaffected performance as the beleaguered child, and his transformation from a joyless paperboy with no future to a prematurely burdened child for whom education may lead to a better life is touching.
leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh