Review of “We the Animals” by Jeremiah Zagar
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Synopsis

Qhe childhood is the happiest stage and to which every human being would want to return at some point in his life is a mythologized idea that does not always fit with reality. Not all children are lucky enough to be born into loving and protective families that ensure that they have the best education, showering them with whims and comforts. Sometimes, the circumstances surrounding a minor are not as idyllic as one might expect, turning their path to maturity into an amalgam of experiences that are not too pleasant or, outright, traumatic. This delicate vital process, that of childhood, on whose experiences the character and identity of the future adult are forged, has been reflected, in a naked and realistic way, without concessions to sentimentality, in such memorable titles as Boyhood(Richard Linklater, 2014) or Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016), where its young protagonists had to deal with complicated family relationships or sordid social environments, in which violence or drugs are the order of the day. Jeremiah Zagar, a filmmaker forged in the field of documentaries, seems to want to follow in the footsteps of those films to face his first experience in conventional cinema, adapting a semi-biographical novel by Justin Torres, where the writer (who collaborated closely in the development of the script of the film) captured many of his experiences during his childhood in New York.  He couldn’t have had a better ally than his newcomer behind-the-scenes director to extract the full potential of the literary source from which he came, as Zagar’s analytical, curious and avid gaze for small details is revealed as a perfect tool to the time to draw on screen, more than a typical family drama, a captivating slice of life that flirts with the visual poetry of the best Terrence Malick, relying on the prodigious photography of Zak Mulligan to leave some of the most beautiful images of American cinema of 2018 the “story”, or rather, the events recounted in We the Animals, takes place in a rural neighborhood in New York in the 80s and has a somewhat chaotic family as the main character. Parents, whom we only know by the names of “Paps” and “Ma” with whom their children address them, make up a working-class marriage that does not know how to dose the passion that is professed in a healthy and balanced way The father, of Puerto Rican origin, is a brusque and aggressive type, who finds it difficult to keep jobs as a result of her ungovernable character, while the mother, American and white, tries to keep the ramshackle family on its feet, without much The toxic relationship that the couple maintains, with constant comings and goings and episodes of domestic violence interspersed with others of apparent happiness the scene of the family ride in a van under a starry sky is wonderful is shown from the perspective of her three pre-adolescent children, putting the spotlight on the perspective that, on those bittersweet days, has the youngest of them, Jonah, a child endowed with a special sensitivity that is contrasted with the wildest attitudes of older brothers who, without a doubt, are beginning to repeat the father’s model of behavior even committing small acts of vandalism in which violence is present. Zagar’s camera is recreated in Jonah’s expressive blue eyes to, through them, show us the reality (as distorted as you want due to the naivety and fantasy of age) of a family that, despite its shortcomings and mistakes, tries to stay together in the hope that the future is better for them. The film is nothing more than a contemplative succession of experiences and states of mind that the boy goes through and that, despite their (only) apparent inconsequentiality, help to establish the foundations of the adult in whom, inexorably, he will end up transforming «Rarely does a debut feature reach the strength and emotional depth that Zagar has achieved in this debut, characterized by very natural performances, both by the adult performers, as well as by the three little ones, who achieve such complicity on screen that it makes that we absolutely believe that they are brothers.

New view in old-fashioned cinema

The view that We the Animals offers about uprooted childhood is also closely linked to that shown in the excellent The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017), populated by feral children who spend the day in the streets without the proper supervision of some neglected parents, but, also, goes a step further to, as in Moonlight, to deal with a subject as delicate as that of the discovery of sexual identity in childhood. Jonah is a special boy, who enjoys more writing or making creative drawings in a notebook that he hides under the mattress of his bed than bathing in the lake or doing mischief with some brothers with whom he feels less and less identified. The mother, aware of the fragility of the child, tries to protect him from the roughness of the environment. The film takes risks by introducing numerous scenes in which the illustrations created by the child seem to come to life, through an animation as minimalist as it is aggressive, functioning as an invaluable reflection of internal conflicts (especially those that revolve around their incipient homosexual desires) who suffers in silence. We the Animalsis a gritty and intimate journey of self-discovery in which its young protagonist distances himself from his family as he begins to be aware of what is right and what is not, as well as which path he wants to start following to become the adult (and possible artist) you want to be. Rarely does a debut feature reach the strength and emotional depth that Zagar has achieved in this debut, characterized by very natural performances, both by the adult performers, visceral Raúl Castillo and Sheila Vand, as well as by the three little ones (with special mention by Evan Rosado, a prodigy of maturity in his difficult role as Jonah), who achieve such complicity on screen that it makes us absolutely believe that they are brothers. It is a pity that one of the most moving works, sincere and valuable films of the year remain unpublished in Spain one year after a triumphant visit to festivals, something that highlights the difficulties that great auteur cinema finds to gain a foothold on billboards dominated by commercial and empty proposals.