'Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle' Dir. Gustavo Salmerón

Corina Poore talks to Gustavo Salmerón, who made a unique film about a family who lived a fairy tale. It happened to be his own.
by: 
By Corina J Poore

When she first got married, Julita Salmerón had three wishes on her bucket list: - she wanted to have lots of kids, a monkey and a castle. She thought she might manage the first one, but never imagined that she might succeed in having them all. But she did!  So, one bucket list like no other was accomplished, and this endearing film shows us how.

“I want to tell my own stories “, says Gustavo Salmerón, “…the quirks and the eccentricities of life, even in the worst situations people will laugh and try to be happy and survive. And my very special mother, [even] in the worst moments… can make fun of the situation.” 

So, he started to film his own family.

14 years later, after 400 hours of filming the family and endlessly conversing with matriarch Julita, his mother and larger- than- life protagonist, he uncovers some painful family memories as well as the deep warmth and cohesiveness that this family (both ordinary and extraordinary) has achieved over the years. Despite her protestations that no one would ever want to see the film, ‘Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle’ took the top prize at the Karlovy Vary documentary competition and other festivals.        

Salmerón started out studying Fine Art hoping to become a painter, but then became an actor. His directing debut was a short film called “Desaliñada”  (Salad Days), which won the Goya for Best Short Film, and many other awards in Los Angeles, Chicago and  Brest in France. A good omen for things to come.

It took Gustavo Salmerón and his editors, Raúl de Torres and Dani Urdiales, two whole years to cut the 400 hours of footage into shape, but the story unfolded naturally for them in real life.  To Salmerón’s chagrin, many hilarious scenes could not be included, so he has since toyed with the idea of using some of the footage in a TV series. 

The story relates how an unexpected large inheritance changes their lives and Julita finds she can finally buy the castle of her dreams, even the monkey.  So, the family inhabit that amazing sprawling castle with a special room for her doll collection, corridors with suits of armour and statues, and a massive chandelier over a huge dining table.  You could spend hours just visiting a home like that.

 

 

The film flows so effortlessly that it is hard to believe this film is a documentary, bubbling as it does with infectious humour and moving moments veering from warmth to sadness. Salmerón calls it a ‘comedy’ for a reason. There is a spontaneity and a richness, conveyed by the witty and extremely entertaining Julita, who remains astonished that anyone would ever want to watch her or any of her family’s antics at all!  Usually right about most things, she is certainly wrong about that! 

Salmerón is the youngest son and becomes determined to find the vertebrae of his great grandmother that are apparently stored somewhere among his mother’s massive collection of belongings. Belongings, that over the years, she has carefully labelled and stored in boxes in every nook and cranny.  It appears that the vertebrae were removed from the great grandmother’s body when her bones and that of her daughter were finally found by Salmerän’s great grandfather, victims of ‘the communists’ during the Spanish Civil War.  Julita refuses to look for the bones, terrified at the thought of them rattling around the place.

But Julita is not just any old hoarder. Every one of those items that she keeps has a history and meaning for her, she describes them as being ‘a part of her life’ so she cannot throw them away, even those that are damaged and broken.   They have been lovingly collected, from the huge nativity that she sets up early in good time, in June, to her massive collections of dolls, thimbles, Santa Claus Hats and trimmings, right down to the suits of armour. Clearly, somewhere lost among those items lie the mislaid vertebrae that Salmeron is determined to find, so they can finally be properly buried.

This is a film brimming with affection and love. Julita manages her dream of having ‘lots of kids’ ending up with six.  She worries about her wise and long-suffering husband whom she adores, because she feels that she is no longer the woman she would like to be, he replies that he married 50 kilos and is now landed with 100!  But the love between them and the whole family resonates so that every time they sit down for a meal at the very large, carefully laid out dinner table, framed by the massive chandelier, one would love to be able to walk through the screen and join them.

One critic describes this family as ‘dysfunctional’. I challenge that, as this family appears to be the total opposite, an endearing example of a wholesome and supportive group of people who survive the staggering downturn of their fortunes during the financial crash of 2008 with humour and grace, and none more so that Julita herself.

The film is on at the Curzon Bloomsbury now

Official trailer: https://youtu.be/fXk5pf-JsHI

Awards:                 Karlovy Vary Grand Prix: Best Documentary Film 2017

                  Cinema Eye Honours 2017: Spotlight Award       

                  Goya Awards 2018:         Best Documentary

                  Platino Awards 2018:       Best Documentary

                  Camden International Film Festival 2017: Special Jury Mention                

Director & Producer: Gustavo Salmerón

Written by: Gustavo Salmerón, Raúl de Torres, Beatriz Montañez

Music: Mastretta

Editing: Raúl de Torres, Dani Urdiales

Camera & Sound: Gustavo Salmerón

Sound editing: Pelayo Gutiérrez

Sound mixing: Alberto Ovejero Deluxe Spain

Cast: Julita Salmerón /The García Cabanes Salmerón Family