* IDFA - Feature Length Competition
* Audience Award - Festival International de Films de Femmes in Créteil
* IDFA Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Documentary
Beautifully rendered and brilliantly edited, The Grown Ups is an impressively informative and utterly compassionate glimpse into the lives of Down syndrome adults who are, at age 40-something, stuck in a school environment that 'normal' society deems safe, but they know to be quite limiting. Filmmaker Maite Alberdi's rapport with her subjects allows them to voice their innermost longings and admirable aspirations. Their engaging story is a mixture of heartache and humor, and hope for greater understanding of people with Down syndrome – or, for that matter, anyone whose perceptions and abilities are different from 'the norm' For these reasons, we select The Grown-Ups to receive the 2016 IDFA AWFJ EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Documentary. Alberdi won her first AWFJ EDA Award at IDFA in 2014, and we look forward to seeing many more extraordinary films from this wonderful young woman director.
The Grown Ups
For almost their whole life a group of friends 40 year olds have been classmates. They have passed all their grades and now don’t want to continue complying with school obligations. They outlive their parents and they are aware that they have been in school longer than most teachers and they are sick and tired of being students.
They are grownups and they want to be treated as grownups. They always believe that when their parents died, they would be able to do everything they weren´t allowed before, like living on their own, driving, hanging out, having sex, being parents, getting married, and having a real job. But things are not changing for them, they have Down Syndrome and they have to deal with the frustration of living as if they were still ten years old, but they are almost fifty.
''Maite Alberdi's sensitive, good-humored study of Down's Syndrome adults expresses anger against the system with a light touch.''
- Guy Lodge, Film Critic, Variety IDFA Review
''... a fascinating parade of strong characters – feisty Anita, entrepreneurial Ricardo, suave Andres, and Rita, “smarter than your average bear” each confronting a series of touching challenges as Alberdi looks at lives lived under neverending restraint.''
- By Fionnuala Halligan, Chief Film Critic, Screen Interntional IDFA Review
PRESS IMAGES: (click to preview)
Variety IDFA review - The Grown UpsIDFA Film Review: ‘The Grown-Ups’
Guy Lodge, Film Critic @guylodge
The Grown-Ups, directed by Maite AlberdiCOURTESY: MICROMUNDO PRODUCCIONES
NOVEMBER 22, 2016 | 06:26AM PT
Maite Alberdi's sensitive, good-humored study of Down's Syndrome adults expresses anger against the system with a light touch.
Film title translations may vary considerably from region to region, but rarely do they contradict each other entirely. Branded “The Grown-Ups” for the international festival circuit, Chilean documentarian Maite Alberdi’s third feature goes by “Los niños” (“The Children”) on its home turf. Either way, the title is laced with irony, since this gently stirring, empathetic study of middle-aged students at a school for Down’s Syndrome children shows them to be stuck in a tragic state of limbo: Mature enough to want the pressures and privileges of independent adulthood, yet emotionally and financially ill-equipped to pursue them alone, they’re ultimately failed by a system that treats them as homogeneously disabled. Though Alberdi’s short, audience-friendly film offers plenty of sweetness and light observational humor, the sad anger of its message still burns through; international distribution, particularly on VOD platforms, is quite feasible.
“Who are we? Conscious adults,” the film’s four principal subjects recite as a constant mantra at the group therapy sessions arranged for them by the school — a statement of defiance that, however kindly encouraged by their supervisors, only they appear to fully believe. Aided by the clean, no-nonsense clarity of Menno Boerema and Juan Eduardo Murillo’s editing, “The Grown-Ups” works swiftly to differentiate between the strong individuals in this quartet, who spend most of their time training and working in the school’s catering department — yet not toward any identified qualification or reward.
The most immediately charismatic of the four is Anita, a bright, self-confident woman yearning to begin a new life free of her parents’ constant, unyielding guardianship and the numbing routine of the kitchen — strictures which, however well-intended, are beginning to have an effect more oppressive than protective. Her exasperation is emboldened into vocal self-assertion by an increasingly tender romance with the gentlemanly Andres, a fellow Down’s Syndrome classmate who appears to understand her emotional needs better than her elders; together, they dream of marrying and raising a family. (Through adoption, Anita is quick to clarify, explaining that she is past menopause; that she recognizes such practicalities amid otherwise far-fetched idealism is illustrative of her unusual, intermediate stage of personal development.) Together, the two plan their wedding with poignant excitement, even going so far as to shop for rings, with a critical legal cloud hanging over them: In Chile, adults are forbidden from marrying if they are judged to have the mental maturity of a minor.
Who gets to make that call, and by what criteria, is the question Alberdi invites audiences to consider, or reconsider: The longer we spend in the company of these people, the clearer it seems that they should be treated on a case-by-case basis. Anita and Andres, for example, are more high-functioning and less outwardly child-like than Rita, an endearingly exuberant but fragile 45-year-old with a limited mastery of physical boundaries and a penchant for Barbie dolls. At more or less the opposite end of the spectrum is the sensible, studious Ricardo, voted the group’s class president, who holds a part-time job as a carer at an old-age home and is eager to save money for a self-sufficient future. The disparity between his needs in the latter department and his pocket-money income, once revealed, is heartbreaking; among other matters, the film tacitly calls for employment reform for those with learning difficulties.
As the dominant arc of Andres and Anita’s relationship hits complications beyond their control, “The Grown-Ups” veers into outright tear-jerker territory, though not at the expense of its emotional authenticity. Several intimate or wholly joyous set-pieces — the chaste lovers’ first bedroom encounter, for example, or a surprise birthday-cake dance routine — both brighten the tone and, more crucially, give the subjects added nuance and definition. They are finally treated as equal, many-shaded personalities, not just passive, victimized case studies. Pablo Valdes’s airy, unobstrusive lensing often counters their darker mood swings with the pastel party-balloon shades that dominate their environment, visually emphasizing a world that tries to mollify their anger. Perhaps Miguel Miranda and Jose Miguel Tabar’s perkily whimsical score was similarly intended, yet it’s the film’s chief misstep, with tip-toeing piano strains that risk infantilizing these grown-ups along with everyone else around them.
IDFA Film Review: 'The Grown-Ups'
Reviewed at IDFA (competing), Nov. 21, 2016. Running time: 82 MIN. (Original title: "Los niños")
(Documentary — Chile-The Netherlands-France) A Micromundo production in coproduction with Volya Films, Mandra Films.
(International sales: CAT&Docs, Paris.)
Produced by Maite Alberdi, Denis Vaslin. Executive producers, Fleur Knopperts, Clara Taricco, Sebastian Brahm.
Directed, written by Maite Alberdi. Camera (color), Pablo Valdes. Editors, Menno Boerema, Juan Eduardo Murillo.
Ana Maria Rodriguez, Ricardo Urzua, Andres Martinez, Rita Guzman, Daniel Mehech, Rodrigo Carrasco. (Spanish dialogue)
Life of Pi, All is Lost, Dead Calm, Cast Away; all are stunning films, each with the sea as their subject. Nonetheless, they all deal with 'the will to survive', as emphasized in their trailers.HOW TO MEET A MERMAID, by contrast, deals with 'the will to die', which exists alongside the former and triumphs over it on occasion. Just as with survival, this will to perish requires its own share of courage and strength of will. My protagonists have made their choice; for Lex and Rebecca, grim determination takes them past death's doorstep, whereas Miguel rushes headlong into a desperate adventure, as thousands upon thousands of illegal immigrants are doing at this very moment.
"To me, all human behavior is unpredictable, and considering man's frailty in the ramshackle universe he functions in, it's all irrational. It couldn't be very rational because this universe is not a very rational one, it seems to me" - William Faulkner, Nobel-prize winning American writer. HOW TO MEET A MERMAID, we hear the echo of Faulkner's words, leaning over a lectern back in 1958. Having decided to put aside his beloved bourbon for a minute, he treats his audience to dissemination on our human struggle through a crackling microphone. I am a great fan of Faulkner, and the fifty-year old recordings I've uncovered provide the motivations of Lex, Rebecca, and Miguel with a sense of perspective. The Faulkner quote stated above has served as the foundation for this film. In HOW TO MEET A MERMAID, we are hurled down onto earth by the universe, as portrayed in the stunning opening shots of the film: at times, in a paradise we no longer recognise as such; sometimes, in hell, and then there are times when there is nothing to it but to figure it out for yourself. Lex, Rebecca, and Miguel all reside in their respective paradises that have become a hell to them. Loneliness amidst thousands of fellow human beings (Rebecca on her Disney cruise), alone among friends (Lex at the diving resort) or Miguel (teaching surfing classes to tourists who are blissfully unaware of the fact that he uses his surfboard for purposes other than fun: an escape from destitute poverty and a gateway to that other paradise, America, his way barred by a fence.)
It appears as if I have produced a trilogy on the human struggle, without ever realising that the subject harbors my deepest fascination: how do we keep going? In retrospect, this trilogy started out with First Kill (2001): am I personally capable of killing a human being? Bloody Mondays & Strawberry Pies (2008) addresses the question of how to live without getting killed either by your job or by boredom. And now, HOW TO MEET A MERMAID, on the battle to remain alive.
With HOW TO MEET A MERMAID I stand up for the glorious beauty of our existence. This is a film about courage, doubt, difficult decisions, the lure of the sea, and the splendor of life in its occasional ineptitude at dissuading us from acts of recklessness. In the closing shot of the film, a footprint set in the concrete of a sun-drenched sidewalk, I join Faulkner by sharing in his vision: "I have great faith in man.”