Several times throughout Lots of Kids, a Monkey, and a Castle, Julita Salmerón chides her son, Gustavo, for making a film about her. She knows the kinds of stories audiences like, and hers certainly isn’t one of them.
She’s wrong about that (though you wouldn’t dare say it to her face). Produced from 400 hours of Super-8 footage shot over 14 years, the documentary proves an endearing, often humorous celebration of an eccentric matriarch that audiences are sure to enjoy their time with.
Lots of Kids, a Monkey, and a Castle takes its name from the three wishes Julita made as a newlywed. Despite what else life may bring, those were the three things she wanted. Remarkably, the woman who spent her childhood eating rice with a shoehorn would eventually come into possession of all three, after receiving a substantial inheritance.
The details of this inheritance are never quite explained. Neither are most of the elements that provide context to Julita’s life, including her husband and children, who exist only in the background. Whether this was an intentional decision by Gustavo or not is unclear, but one thing is obvious: this is Julita’s film, and a moment she’s not on screen is a moment wasted. She’s the kind of stern, matronly character you’d expect to find in a fairytale, and it’s hard to dislike her. The way she ignores Gustavo’s questions, or gets distracted playing with trinkets during some of the film’s most intimate moments is remarkably charming, and she’s sure to remind audience members of an exaggerated version of their grandmothers.
Lots of Kids often feels cobbled together, a hastily produced path off which it feels Julita is ready to swerve at any moment. That’s not a bad thing though. The first half of the film takes a casual approach to introducing her eccentricities – her hoarding, her obsession with Christmas (“I celebrate Christmas from December 1st to September”), and excessive eating (“I was up until 3AM looking for the sleeping pills. I had to eat a chorizo sandwich in the end”). Somewhere in the castle is a box containing vertebrae belonging to Julita’s grandmother, murdered during the Spanish Civil War. Gustavo wants to find them and bury them, warning that not to do so could bring ruin upon the family. Julita ignores him; she’s fine the way things are.
Then the Global Financial Crisis hits, and Julita’s informed she will lose the castle in a month. Here, Lots of Kids finds focus. Julita goes through a change, a dark change, one that consistently brings the octogenarian’s mortality to the foreground. At least Christmas is almost here, she says to Gustavo.
“It’s July, Mum.”
“I don’t care.”
Such love and humour carries throughout even the worst of the Salmerón family’s days, and it’s these two elements that elevate Lots of Kids above the status of a feature length home video. Julita is a reminder that no matter our problems, no matter our hangups, happiness is never far away.