The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano), a nine-year-old boy living in a housing project in Caracas, wants to straighten his wild curls. He pours mayonnaise and oil on his hair, and struggles to get a comb through. He experiments with his grandmother's blow dryer. Junior's mother Marta (Samantha Castillo), harassed and exhausted, sees her son's obsession with his hair as an ominous sign. When she looks at him, more often than not it is with an expression of disgust. His hair is from his black father, no longer in the picture. Marta has another baby, seemingly from a different father, and the baby has long straight hair. Marta showers the baby with love and affection, all as Junior looks on from the next room. Maybe if his hair was straight, his mother would love him. Mariana Rondón's "Bad Hair" is a stark and often brutal look at one boy's pre-sexual awakening of identity and how that impacts his life. What is it like to know who you are before you understand what that will mean? Populated with totally naturalistic performances, and a stunningly observed relationship between mother and son (their scenes together are phenomenal), "Bad Hair" works by keeping its focus on the small details of everyday life and its rhythms. It is not didactic about sexuality, and it does not sentimentalize childhood or its main child character.
Shot by Micaela Cajahuaringa with an intensely realistic style, "Bad Hair" presents a world that is overcrowded, loud, and chaotic. People don't have time to think in this cacophony. There is no room to breathe. Poverty and overcrowding grind people down. The highways are clogged with cars, and the gigantic dilapidated tenement buildings loom high, surrounded by the vast space of basketball courts and parking lots. Early on, Junior and his best friend (Maria Emilia Sulbaran) stand on his balcony, staring at the wall of windows across the way, the sheer sea of diverse humanity on display, packed on top of one another, and they speculate on the lives everyone leads over there. They are children and they don't understand everything but they see all.
Early on, there's a scene where a group of rowdy boys in the housing project blast music and break-dance. Junior stands on the sidelines watching, enjoying himself, and then slowly starts to sway, closing his eyes and raising his arms. It is in total contrast to the jagged hip-hop energy of the other boys, but in such a moment Junior is being himself. It is pure joy. Marta comes across this scene, takes one look at how different Junior looks from everyone else, and drags him away, asking him why he has to dance like that. He doesn't know.
School is about to start, and all children need to have an ID photo taken. Junior and his little friend fantasize about their photos; it is a major topic of conversation. Junior is determined to have straight hair for the photo. His friend sees nothing wrong with that. She loves her own hair, and puts little clips and barrettes in it, and the two of them loll about all day watching beauty pageants together on television. He locks himself in the bathroom and experiments with different straightening products, all as Marta bangs on the door furiously.