EL CIELITO (María Victoria Menis, 2004)

Félix, a penniless teenager heading for where he hopes to find work in rural Argentina, is onboard a train that moves screen-left. With the conductor approaching, he jumps off; an overhead shot shows him walking ahead down the tracks. Now he is walking screen-right. This direction cancels the preceding ones, suggesting that Félix is heading nowhere. An orphan who never knew either parent and was raised by a now deceased grandmother, he is all alone.
     Félix falls into a temporary job harvesting, at a dilapidated farm, for room (in the barn) and board. Roberto tries to impress the boy he has hired with his control of wife Mercedes and shooting expertise. Our first glimpse of Mercedes, who is younger than her spouse, occurs when Roberto introduces her to Félix; in effect, he is bragging. While hanging laundry to dry, Mercedes holds her and Roberto’s ten-month old baby, Chango. At farms, work is the order of the day, and an extraordinary passage alternates between showing Félix and Mercedes at work. Gradually Mercedes, guardedly silent before, opens up to the boy. We discover that Roberto, otherwise a mostly sympathetic figure, is recurringly abusive, especially when he drinks.
     Félix bonds with Chango, whose secondary caregiver he becomes. He tells the infant boy, “You’ll never be alone again,” meaning also, he hopes, that neither will he be. After Mercedes leaves Roberto, whom he does his best to parent through the ordeal, Félix takes Chango and goes to Buenos Aires to start a new life. A wonderful passage: along the way, Félix pointing out sights to Chango through the train window. But the elder boy is in over his head trying to care for Chango and himself.
     María Victoria Menis’s Little Sky is unsentimental, sad, gentle, with shots of forlorn, melancholy landscapes suggesting the hope that has been drained out of people’s lives. Félix’s recurrent unsaturated dreams of his grandmother—we see her as a pair of legs, a pair of laboring hands and finally a warm, careworn face—conjoin themes of struggle and loss.

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