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In my travels to the best film festivals in…
On Saturday, October 19, 2013 I attended the Southeast Premiere of The Boy Who Smells Like Fish at the 2013 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The screening took place at the state-of-the-art Muvico Broward 18 in Pompano, Florida. The film was a selection in the World Cinema Features section.
Don't let the odorous title scare you away. There's much more here than meets the eye -- or nose.
Bullying is ubiquitous among kids. That much we know. There are as many reasons why as there are schoolchildren. Most, thankfully, grow out of those awkward phases into adolescence and begin to be accepted by their peers. Mica (Douglas Smith), however, is a boy with a unique challenge he cannot overcome -- he smells like fish. Parents, doctors, and therapists all look for a cause -- while helping him adjust to life with this odd condition -- but to no avail. Mica, in the meantime, finds solace -- and a way to temporarily block the odors -- in the water. So he spends most of his days at a local pool. But this is no life. He's a teenager, and with a lack of social skills and with no desire to be found out, he avoids even those girls who may be interested in him -- particularly the sweet and charming Laura (Zoë Kravitz). No, this is no life. Add to that his ubique abode -- he lives in the house once occupied by the famous Mexican singer Guillermo Garibai, which is now a museum devoted to his life and music. Anyone who lives there must conduct public tours on a regular basis. Director/co-writer Analeine Cal y Mayor's debut may appear to be a madcap comedy on the surface, but this is actually a charming, heartfelt coming of age tale.
While Cal y Mayor has had production roles on three big screen projects, including Tony Scott’s acclaimed Man on Fire (2004), this is her first feature in the director’s chair. She co-wrote the script with Javier Gullón, who’s written a dozen short and full-length films. This is his eighth feature. He’s best known for Invader (2002), which earned him nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay from Spain’s Cinema Writers Circle and the Goya Awards (Spain’s equivalent to the Oscars). This is their first collaboration. The Boy Who Smells Like Fish debuted in competition at the Miami International Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. It went on to play the Guadalajara International Film Festival prior to its European Premiere at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May.
Smith is the heart and soul of the film and appears in virtually every scene. Along with Kravitz, The Boy Who Smells Like Fish relies on their chemistry, and so it rests on their shoulders. They are two of the most sincere, genuine actors in the business, which is why the picture works despite some risky, bold narrative choices.
As the titular boy, young star Douglas Smith has, shockingly, over 100 movie and television projects to his credit. He’s perhaps best known for playing Ben in 53 episodes of the multi award-winning HBO series Big Love from 2006-2011. Cinema credits include Sleepover (2004) and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013), in which he played Tyson. He’s also appeared in three of my film festival Top Picks over the years, including Citizen Duane (Toronto 2006), Remember the Daze (Los Angeles 2007), and Antiviral (Fantastic Fest 2012). Although he convincingly plays a teen here, he’s actually 28. Even for that age, though, it’s still quite a résumé.
Love interest Zoë Kravitz played Pearl in eight episodes of Showtime’s Californication and appeared in No Reservations (2007, her first film), Assassination of a High School President, Joel Schumacher’s Twelve, X-Men: First Class, for which she received two Teen Choice Award nominations, and After Earth. Like Smith, she’s starred in three of my fest Top Picks over the years: The Greatest (Sundance 2009), Beware the Gonzo (Tribeca 2010), and It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Toronto 2010).
Standouts in support include Don McKellar as Mica’s absent dad, Ariadna Gil as his mother, Carrie-Anne Moss as his therapist, and the hilarious Gonzalo Vega as Garibai.
Production values are high, despite a modest budget reported at $4.7 million, owing greatly to veteran multi award-winning Canadian cinematographer Gregory Middleton. He’s worked on over 85 theatrical and television projects. On the small screen, he shot the pilots of Kyle XY and Psych along with multiple episodes of Smallville and Fringe. His motion picture credits include Slither, The Wicker Man, and as second unit DP on The Butterfly Effect (2004), one of my favorite films of the past 10 years. Middleton has won or been nominated for 15 awards from Canada’s top movie and television organizations, including the Canadian Society of Cinematographers, Gemini Awards (Canada’s equivalent to the Emmys), Genie Awards (Canada’s equivalent to the Oscars), and British Columbia’s Leo Awards. Mexican editor Óscar Figueroa has cut over 100 films and TV shows, and has won or been nominated nine times by the Ariel Awards, Mexico’s Oscar equivalent.
Shot in Toronto and Mexico City in the fall of 2011, the movie consists primarily of interior shots, brightly lit with a well-saturated palette of intense primary colors. Aqua blue predominates, appropriately, reflecting the medium in which the boy feels safe. Water always looks good on film, and a good portion of the narrative takes place at the swimming pool where Mica spends his free time. Although shot, surprisingly, in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the images still dazzle with a healthy dose of sparkling underwater photography including some visually stunning dream sequences. The two leads are lit like angels, underscoring the fact that this is a comedy with a romantic touch, a teenage love story more than anything.
Three composers scored the picture, including Oscar nominee Benoit Charest (for Best Original Song in 2003’s The Triplets of Belleville). He has over a dozen wins and nominations to his credit, including a Grammy nomination, three Genie nominations, and four Jutra Award nominations (winning one). He won a Cesar Award (France’s Oscar equivalent) for The Triplets of Belleville. The other composers were Greg Morrison and Yamil Rezc. The soundtrack is a combination of classic Mexican styles, including the hits of “Guillermo Garibai,” along with a light piano background.
The Boy Who Smells Like Fish is a quirky, slightly absurdist comedic drama that's more poignant than humorous. The message is fairly simple yet profound. Mica and Laura are teenage would-be lovers keeping secrets from each other. We all have peculiarities we hide. But we can't love someone else until we love ourselves. This means getting past what we think others will find objectionable and accepting ourselves for who we are. In a year rich with memorable coming of age movies (Mud, The Kings of Summer, The Spectacular Now, Joe, The Way, Way Back), if you can get past the name, The Boy Who Smells Like Fish is one of the best.
NOTE: I selected The Boy Who Smells Like Fish as one of my Top 8 English Language Narratives from the 2013 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. It was produced by Niv Fichman and Kevin Krikst for Canada’s Rhombus Films and Stacy Perskie for Mexico’s Redrum, along with Spain’s Mecanismo Films. José Herrero de Egaña was Executive Producer, along with Associate Producer Chris Bell and Co-Producer Sari Friedland. Alliance Films is releasing in Canada on February 14, 2014.
The official trailer is below along with a set of stills.
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In my travels to the best film festivals in…