The Bad Intentions (Las Malas Intenciones): Film Review

Gloomy tale of troubled childhood in 1980s Peru.

A lonely young girl nurses a macabre death wish in Peru's Oscar contender from first-time writer-director Rosario Garcia-Montero.

An ominous sense of dread hangs over this moody drama about a morbid, asthmatic nine-year-old girl who becomes convinced she is destined to die on the day of her baby brother’s birth. A rites-of-passage story with a dash of dark comedy, Peru’s official candidate for the best foreign language Oscar is a slight but intelligent debut feature written and directed by the Chicago-born Peruvian-American Rosario Garcia-Montero.

Anchored by a strong central performance from nine-year-old Fatima Buntinx, which cleverly manages to elicit empathy for a highly unsympathetic heroine, The Bad Intentions is a subtle and absorbing character study of a solitary child searching for validation from a dysfunctional culture convulsed by Catholic guilt, terrorist violence and its own bloody history. A festival-friendly film, it could have niche appeal in foreign markets, especially if it picks up added Oscar buzz.

It is 1982, and Peru is in the throes of its bumpy transition to democracy, with terrorist attacks from leftist insurgent groups like the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru hovering on the margins of the narrative. But sheltered nine-year-old schoolgirl Cayetana (Buntinx) is much more interested in the Peruvian struggles of the distant past, especially the slain military martyrs who appear to her in lightly animated daydreams, then later in spooky Bergman-esque dream sequences. Starved of affection, Cayetana begins to associate battlefield heroism with her own imminent death, which she imagines will bring the attention she craves from her divorced and emotionally remote parents.

Viewed wholly through the eyes of Cayetana, who lives in an isolated world of chilly privilege surrounded by servants and bodyguards, The Bad Intentions seems at times to be edging towards a full-blown horror movie in the vein of Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In, or a political-historical allegory in the mold of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. But instead it sticks to its modest mission of carefully dissecting a young girl’s subconscious fears and feverish fantasies.

Shooting this melancholy story in washed-out colors and somber shadows, Garcia-Montero could be accused of being too subtle at times. Very little overtly dramatic happens, though there is a half-hearted suicide attempt, a serious illness and an off-screen death. And Cayetana does appear to grow emotionally, eventually expressing the empathy for others that she has so far successfully suppressed. Quietly engrossing but inconclusive, The Bad Intentions is nevertheless an impressive calling card for its young star and novice director.

Production companies: Barry Films, Garmont Films
Producers: Benito Mueller, Wolfgang Mueller, Paul Typaldos, Rosario Garcia-Montero
Cast: Fatima Buntinx, Katerina D’Onofrio, Paul Vega, Kani Hart, Melchor Gorrochategui, Jean Paul Strauss, Liliana Alegria
Director: Rosario Garcia-Montero
Writer: Rosario Garcia-Montero
Cinematographer: Rolo Pulpeiro
Editor: Rosario Suárez
Music: Patrick Kirst
Sales company: Ondamax Films
Rating TBC, 110 minutes