Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle ★★★

My Monster Lookout review (written as part of a New Zealand International Film Festival preview, hence the overemphasis on context):


One mistake many NZIFF attendees make is not to factor in a palette-cleanser. Sure, there's lots of "worthy" films, but after two weeks of Holocaust stories, arthouse misery, and general tragedy, one can be left wanting nothing more than a film to lift one's spirits. Here, then, is a film just for that purpose. "A film about my mother" is certainly a warning sign, to be fair, and many terrible documentaries have been spawned from children mistakenly believing their families are worthy of protracted cinematic attention. But at their best, such films can bring to light fascinating cinematic presences that might have otherwise gone unobserved. And so it is with filmmaker Gustavo Salmerón's portrait of his mother, who had three wishes in her life (no points for guessing, they're in the title). Matriarch Julita is both a bundle of energy and a maddening figure; whether you view the film as a comedy or a tragedy may well depend on how much you project into your own family's packrat tendencies and what might happen if, one day, they were forced to downsize from a castle. Personally, I busted a gut laughing several times, be it from her 25 umbrellas, her unopened Christmas presents, or her son's persistent search for two vertebrae. Those with an operational knowledge of Spanish politics may detect a deeper undercurrent - at one point, Julita mentions her membership in the Falangists, a Fascist movement, and the economic crisis is pivotal - but even with those dark tinges, I suspect Lots of Kids ... will still be a welcome breath of fresh air for weary festivalgoers.