‘Ninato’: Film Review

Courtesy of New Folder Studio
Oro Ransanz in 'Ninato'.
The kids aren't alright.

Adrian Orr’s debut, about a young father straddled between ambition and duty, won Best International Film at Argentina’s recent BAFICI festival.

An intimate and compassionate documentary take on the struggles of a wannabe Spanish rap singer who also happens to be the father of three small children, Adrian Orr’s full-length debut, Ninato, has much of the freshness of lived experience, but also some of its tedium. Invited along with his camera into the Ransanz family — whom he worked with previously on the 2013 short Good Day, Resistance — Orr faithfully records their domestic day-to-day life while briefly and tellingly illuminating unsuspected depths. With his BAFICI award, Orr adds his name to a list of Spanish filmmakers, among them Luis Lopez Carrasco and Oliver Laxe, whose quietly potent brand of alternative cinema is making a mark on the international festival circuit.

David, in his late 20s, is like many of his generation in Spain, pretty much resigned to permanent unemployment. He gets occasional gigs as a rap artist while living in his parents’ home along with his three children: Oro, Mia and Luna. The title of the film translates roughly as "childish," and it’s clear from the outset that the idealistic dreamer David is refusing to grow up, surrounded as he is by women — his mother, sister and girlfriend — who are helping out with much of the dirty work of raising, feeding and educating his three children. David seems like a nice enough guy, but he doesn’t know too much about how to raise a family.

Orr has a tendency to set up the camera and let scenes unfold, with careful editing giving the film its rhythm and meaning. The technique has the advantage of creating the powerful sense of "I’ve been there" immediacy, as for example when rebellious little Oro refuses to do his homework and gets into an argument with his grandmother. Elsewhere, however, it becomes tedious. It’s not hard to see the point of recording in real time David’s attempts to get the kids out of bed and to school — a scene that nicely establishes the family dynamics — but to ramp it up to a frankly yawnsome seven minutes, and incorporate it within the film’s first 15, is questionable.

Ninato neither praises nor criticizes David, but instead invites reflection on how we can be expected to educate our children when we ourselves don’t believe in the values of a school system that has done nothing for us; on how much parents should be expected to sacrifice of their own ambitions in order to raise a family; and on how, despite decades of social changes, it’s still the women who silently and sufferingly run the domestic show. There’s a grim irony in having David explain to his son the value of being autonomous, when David himself is hardly a shining example of it.

On the plus side, David’s refusal to lock into the societally accepted category of father means that he can be a friend to his children, and the film suggests, mainly through Oro's moments of joy, that there’s value in that. But in Ninato, too little of this fascinating material is shaped into narrative, with Orr content to let his camera run and hand over the somewhat demanding result to audiences who may or may not be prepared to meet it halfway. We repeatedly see David hunched over his computer, composing, and the first time it comes across as a potent image of futility — but frustratingly, the scene is repeated again and again, and never developed.

As so often, it’s the kids, supposedly secondary characters, who are the real stars of the show, and particularly the lively redhead Oro, faithfully and adoringly rapping his father’s lyrics in the shower. Oro is blissfully and tragically unaware of what a tough place his world is likely to become — a world in which, as his father philosophically reminds him, we are what we do and not what we think.

Production company: New Folder
Cast: David Ransanz, Oro Ransanz, Mia Ransanz, Luna Ransanz
Director, screenwriter, director of photography: Adrian Orr
Producers: Hugo Herrera, Adrian Orr
Editor: Ana Pfaff
Sales: New Folder

No rating, 72 minutes