Published Oct 01, 2013With its subdued political reflection and pointed eschewing of conventionality, being a slowly attentive and formally composed representation of inescapable existential void, Alberto Morais' The Kids from the Port reiterates many of the historical tenets of Spanish and Central American arthouse cinema depicting childhood alienation. Structure, aesthetic and the presentation of protracted mundanity are as key to textual interpretation as the narrative components of story comprising the seemingly simplistic, ersatz road trip of a plot.
The preoccupation—something evident from the outset—is with the absence of meaning and the futility of searching for it. Preteen Miguel (Omar Kim), a school dropout, spends his days listlessly looking for something to do; he kicks a soccer ball against the wall of a dilapidated, empty lot that previously screened films—a representation of the hope and wonder that has long left the outskirts of Valencia—and socializes indifferently with his similarly glum friend Lola (Blanca Bautista) and Guillermo (Mikel Sarasa). Their relationship and engagement with adults is minimal, limited to single, apathetic statements and a generalized disinterest. In short, there's a pervading sense of isolation and lack of guidance defining the lives of these children.
Amidst the extended takes of quotidian banality, where the children stand around, occasionally walking in and out of the frame, the single cry of purpose and heightened emotional discourse from Miguel's grandfather (wanting to bring an army jacket to a recently deceased soldier friend despite being locked in a room) stands out. The children, finally having something to, some sense of purpose, embark on a journey to the cemetery by foot despite having little money, food or even a greater sense of where exactly they're going. Uncertainty prevails as does a sense of neglect, even outside of their sleepy community, where the adults around them passively answer questions when approached but show little concern for the safety of three children on their own with no supervision.
Deliberately, very little happens during this quest. The kids are kicked off a bus at one point for not having enough money and Miguel loses the other two at one point while trying to acquire some food. But beyond having a generalized goal, there's no discernable enthusiasm—the kids never smile or emote—or optimistic sense that the cemetery will somehow give this metaphorical trip any meaning.
This lack of histrionics and intentional avoidance of emotion helps heighten the nothingness and pervading sense of inner-isolation imposed on the titular kids. There's no sense that anyone cares about the casual disappearance of the children, just as they demonstrate no fear of punishment for reckless behaviour. And since Morais avoids all traditional modes of conflict or character shaping contrivance, instead employing long static takes of the indifferent children standing in front of architecture they have no historical context for, the idea of catharsis and meaning quickly slips away, making the anticlimactic nature of it all a depressing inevitability.
This minimalist, neorealist structure does limit the potential audience for The Kids from the Port, landing it firmly within the lexicon of politically conscious arthouse fare, but Morais has effectively communicated his point with utmost integrity, utilizing an extensive cinematic vocabulary to show and guide rather than merely telling. As such, this carefully calculated examination of searching for meaning within a world unconcerned of providing it has a haunting sense of contemplation and beauty in between the frames, projecting the importance of consolidating the past with the present to keep hope alive. (Olivo Films)