Abel is the directorial debut of Diego Luna, who is still best known for starring in Alfonso Cuarón’s powerful Y Tu Mamá También. Now ten years later, he looks set to re-establish himself as an interesting new director to watch.
Abel is a young child who is returned home after a few years inside a psychiatric ward. Initially mute, Abel is finds the opportunity to reintegrate himself into a family that have got used to life without him by taking on the role of his absent father. Fearing his regression back into silence if his illusion is shattered, Abel’s mother (Karina Gidi) encourages his siblings to play along. But what will happen when Abel’s father (José María Yazpik) makes an unexpected return?
As a feature film debut, Abel is full of promise. Though not without its occasional longueurs, the film is brimming with great moments. The film is very funny, with the comic possibilities of its premise fully realized. The film is also not afraid to venture into the absurd, such as the scene in which Abel’s brother stretches his muscles to the tune of a hopelessly camp song. However, the film’s inevitable turns towards a more serious tone do not feel tacked-on for the sake of drama. The dysfunctional family is approached with as much compassion as mirth. Abel’s illness is not solely an invention for comedy, but is also given serious, though not dewy-eyed, insight. In the end, Abel gives us a completely likable family that we can care about, whether or not we may be moved to laugh at their situation. In terms of performance, the film is without fault. It never seems strange that Abel’s mother would continue with this charade and Abel’s father is not merely the villain of the piece, but a three-dimensional character. Both Gidi and Yazpik turn in funny and immensely likable performances. However, the film's trump card may well be Christopher Ruíz-Esparza, in his film debut, who is both convincing and really rather haunting in the title role.
Having courage in its convictions, the film does not avoid the obvious Oedipus implications of its story, though, refreshingly, this is not the sole purpose of the film. Unlike a lot of films, which deal with similar subject matter, Abel allows itself to have some fun. Even the suspenseful and somewhat harrowing finale is interspersed with at least two laugh-out-loud moments, neither of which are expected. However, that said, the ending does betray a certain ambivalence as to how severe a note the film wants to finish on, although this is merely a quibble.
Essentially, Abel is a film that is very easy to be won over by. Both the comedy and the drama are well presented, with the transitions between the two never appearing forced. A simple though profound tale with a great sense of comic timing, Abel points ahead to a great career of its young director.