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It’s very much a case of “four wheels good” in Little World (Món Petit), Marcel Barrena’s Spanish documentary following an energetically independent Catalan 20-year-old as he hitchhikes and wheelchairs his way around the globe. A notable audience favorite when premiering at Amsterdam’s vast nonfiction showcase IDFA, where it also took the Youth Jury’s prize, this genuinely inspirational and irresistibly moving celebration of a unique lad’s irrepressible good humor will justifiably enjoy an extensive film-festival career. A must for any event or sidebar concerned with young people or disability, it appeals longer-term as a prospect for VOD, TV and DVD and has obvious value in educational settings.
Barcelona native Albert Casals, 20 years old at the start of the film and now 22, has been a world traveler since the age of 15. His strategy is simplicity itself, involving “no money” and relying on his well-honed street-smarts plus the kindness of strangers (“society’s outcasts are the ones that help the most,” he notes). His most ambitious adventure is a 30,000 km (18,600-mile) trek to the point on the globe which he identifies as the exact antipode of his home: East Cape in New Zealand. He’s waved off by his parents with €20 ($26) in his pocket, a small video camera in his hand and his girlfriend Ana in tow.
One could technically describe Ana as “able-bodied,” but the seemingly ever-smiling Albert’s agility both with and without his wheelchair emphatically vindicates that much-derided coinage of political correctness, “differently abled.” There’s not much that Albert can’t do and hardly anywhere that Albert can’t go, as illustrated by his remarkably trouble-free navigation of the continents from Europe through Asia to China and Indonesia then on through Australia. There are occasional hiccups, of course, most notably when Ana falls ill in Georgia and has to return home for a spell, and then in Indonesia when it’s Albert’s turn to suffer a health crisis. His reaction towards this worrying episode typifies, however, his unsinkable happy-go-lucky nature: “What a beautiful experience!” he enthuses. “Indonesia is awesome!”
Taking its cue from its main protagonist, Barrena’s debut is consistently upbeat and positive: the early death of Albert’s mother, for example, is mentioned only in passing. Instead, the emphasis is on celebrating how triumphantly Albert has overcome traumatic adversity, his mobility issues stemming from a childhood that involved leukemia, mononucleosis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, the side-effects of leukemia and resulting “lympho-blastomic processes.”
Barrena includes delightful home-video footage of Albert as a “normal”, frowningly serious, chubby kid in the mid-1990s, while Albert’s father, step-mother and grandmother appear to discuss his development and praise his achievements, their talking-heads inserted into stylized cartoonish backdrops. But the main focus is on the rough edged but crisp-looking video diaries shot by Albert and Ana themselves on their 200-day quest, providing a whistle-stop tour of places and people encountered along the way.
Unapologetic about what some might uncharitably term his freeloading ways — his favorite word is ‘gratis’ — Albert is also refreshingly frank about the selective nature of what is shot. “We couldn’t get it all on film or it wouldn’t have happened,” he says early on, and Little World does always feel more like a genuine, serendipitous document of a trip rather than the result of an itinerary concocted with a movie in mind.
In this regard, it parallels Bogdan Ilie-Micu’s A Dream’s Merchant, a Romanian motorbike odyssey which premiered this summer and uses an epic three-hour length to trace its heroes’ progress from Europe to Mongolia. The perkily jaunty Little World by contrast clocks in at just a brisk 83 minutes — Barrena co-edits with Domi Parra — but is that rare current picture which many viewers will wish was somewhat longer. Heartwarming but without a scintilla of mawkishness, it’s a straightforwardly effective introduction to an unforgettable individual and his disarmingly persuasive attitudes to life.
Venue: International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (First Appearance Competition), Nov. 24
Production companies: Umbilical TV, Corte y Confeccion
Director: Marcel Barrena
Screenwriter: Marcel Barrena, Victor Correal, Adria Cuatrecases
Producers: Victor Correal, Oriol Maymó
Directors of photography: Albert Serradó, Victor Torija
Music: Pau Vallvé
Editors: Marcel Barrena, Domi Parra
Sales agent: Corte y Confeccion, Barcelona
No MPAA rating, 83 minutes
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