Film Review: LOTS OF KIDS, A MONKEY AND A CASTLE (Spain 2017)

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Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle Poster
Spanish actor Gustavo Salmerón steps behind the camera to capture the winsome eccentricities of his extraordinary mother Julita, who had three dreams: having lots of kids, owning a monkey, and living in a castle.


With a castle as a tim set and the film set in Spain, this doc called LOTS OF KIDS, A MONKEY AND A CASTLE plays like a fairy tale.

The film begins with the director’s mother, 80-year old Julita, talking to the camera expressing her three wishes.  Her three wishes form the title of the movie – children, a monkey and a castle.  She says she has 6 children and a monkey but getting a castle was the difficult part.  The film goes on.

The monkey part did not go so well. Julita purchased an aggressive monkey that ended up biting her and attacking another woman when it broke its chain.  They finally had to let it go.  The doc has pictures of the monkey but no live footage.

No one would imagine Julita’s middle-class family coming into money, enabling them to make the harebrained purchase of a castle.  All was captured on film as 15 years earlier, her son Gustavo began filming his eccentric family.  Even though since then they lost their property and castle to the economic crisis, the family members have not been deprived of the disarming spontaneity or the kindheartedness that mark their domestic squabbles.

So what is this documentary about?  It is a home movie of sorts but about the director’s mother.  Before one can dismiss the film as nonsensical personal crap, the film exhibits lots of charm which is the reason this documentary got a standing ovation from the audience during the screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The character of the Julita grows on the audience.   Oddly she shares a lot of common traits as my own mother – bless her! when she was still living.  She was a hoarder, she was a controller with very one serving her whims and fancies, she spoke loudly, she was fond of eating and she was loved by all her friends.  The first part of the doc has her son, the director and husband search for two vertebrae of her great grandmother.  He believes keeping the vertebrae is bad karma.  Of course, the hidden item is finally found, and hidden in the weirdest way. The granny is shown to be quite the hoarder,  As they go through hundreds of boxes everything from old teeth, to hat decorations to two urns of the mother’s parents ashes turn up.  It is an amusing revelation of the woman’s life history, while remaining amusing at that.  One inserted musical segment with her playing classical on the piano while her family members move around the house and garden is particularly  riveting, reminiscent of the song of CAMELOT sung by Richard Burton played with Jackie Kennedy going about the house in the film JACKIE.

The film contains sensitive material as well.  Julita speaks candidly of her husband not touching her any more once she became fat.  But old photographs reveals her quite the beauty when she was young.

The film is a glorified home movie – but at least it is an excellent one at that!



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