As the world anxiously awaits for Diego Luna’s entrance into The Criterion Collection with the often rumored, yet to be revealed release of his turn in the film Y Tu Mama Tambien, the actor has now hit the world in the mouth with his first directorial effort, the solid independent drama, Abel.
His debut behind the camera, Abel follows the story of a young boy whose name is the film’s titular inspiration. Following his father’s abrupt evacuation from their family, Abel, a boy with what appears to be a vast aray of mental instabilities, only becomes more unstable. From there, we find that the lack of a true father figure in his life has only given him such a sense of alienation that he himself has taken on the role of his father, which turns the entire family inside out when both his father decides to come back into the fold, after the remaining family members have fully grown to actually quite enjoy Abel’s sudden change of persona. An intimate, yet utterly moving, feature drama, Abel may be a tad narratively schizophrenic, but for its 85 minute runtime, it is one of the year’s better familial dramas.
First and foremost, director Diego Luna proves that while most actors-turned-directors don’t often succeed at the jump from in front, to behind, the camera, he may be one of the most intriguing of that breed in quite some time. Penned by he and Augusto Mendoza, the film’s narrative jumps tonally from one end of the spectrum to the other, but visually, the film is quite affluent. Featuring gorgeous cinematography, Luna gives the film a sense of child-like ease, while using his camera to give the film a fluid aesthetic. Far ahead of many of his peers with framing, the film’s intimacy is directly drawn from the filmmaker behind the camera, and Luna may not be the most adept at bravura filmmaking, but one sees that his work with small gems like the aforementioned Alfonso Cuaron film, has played directly into the actor’s directorial sense of style.
Led by a star making turn from youngster Christopher Ruiz-Esparza, Abel is a top notch actor piece, with great performances from the likes of relative unknowns Jose Maria Yazpik, Karina Gidi, and Geraldine Alejandra, all of whom give absolutely affecting performances. Ruiz-Esparza is particularly superb, giving a moving performance as a young boy who has truly become lost in a far bigger world than he could have ever imagined. Similar in tone to something like Max Records’ turn in Where The Wild Things Are, fans of that far more esoteric and visually inspired drama will fall head over heels for this film, which may very well take inspiration from the late Maurice Sendak story.
Overall, while the film itself may be oddly paced, and narratively scatterbrained, Diego Luna proves with his directorial debut Abel that he is far more deft a filmmaker than anyone could have ever expected. Featuring a cavalcade of fantastic performances and a director far ahead of the curve a first time filmmaker should for all intents and purposes be, Abel may suffer from shoddy plotting, but as far as small, intimate familial dramas go, this may very well be near the top of the charts for this year’s slate.