Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Maria y Yo (Maria and I, 2010, Spain) tells the story of a man and his daughter. The man is Miguel Gallardo, famed Catalan illustrator and his daughter Maria, a 14 year old with autism. As we soon find out in the documentary, autism is not the only thing that makes Maria special. Now, I know that last sentence was probably a bit too sweet to swallow but the movie is sweet and there isn’t another way around it.
The movie chronicles a trip the two make often: from his house in Barcelona to the Canary Islands where she lives with her mother. Documentaries can either be exploitative or manipulative but these two adjectives are not at play here because it isn’t trying to sell you anything but the concept of a parent’s love for his child.
The film gets sad at times and considering the subject, it isn’t exactly a comedy. The realities of the everyday life of a person with mental disabilities are one that tend to pluck at the heart strings of many, but the film does a careful job of not letting you feel sorry for her. Instead of feeling pity for Maria, you just feel for her as she represents the millions of children affected by this disease and its female minority. Instead of being condescending toward her condition, the film is uplifting and ensures that Maria is happy because she doesn’t have any concept of abnormal vs. normal because this is all she knows. In her ignorant bliss lies the lack of ignorance at all. She knows everything about her own world.
The struggle of her parents is also met as fact rather than emotion. They talk of the normal things you hear when a parent deals with autism. The fact that they find solace outside of the medical community who gave them the runaround is a constant theme in works by parents and/or doctors who live with autistic children. However, what is different about this is, like I said before, they aren’t trying to sell you on some breakthrough cure or give false hope to a fragile group of people. It is an authentic documentary that records what happens without any specific agenda or at least one that can be made out explicitly.
The graphic novel was very famous in Spain, as it presented a (literally) 2D, ultra stylized portrayal of what it takes to travel with an autistic person, let alone the product of yourself. The documentary should be a complement to the graphic novel, as it takes you outside of the pages and indeed brings those drawings to life. The art direction of the film and graphic illustrations are remarkably stoic and appropriate to the chronology of events. They present the world that would otherwise be described by Maria and since she can’t, her father creates one for her. His drawings are another way for the two of them to bond together and you find yourself bonding a little as well.
So, Maria and I isn’t necessarily a date night movie but it is a movie to watch when humanity has got you down. To watch the titular character is to see a girl at peace with herself and what’s around her, and in that seemingly simplistic view of life there are the most complicated of questions she has answered. But she shall keep those answers to herself.
Catalan and Spanish with English subtitles, 2010
Dir.by Félix Fernández de Castro
Tuesday, April 5th, 8:00pm | chicagolatinofilmfestival.org
Instituto Cervantes| 31 W. Ohio | 312-335-1996
Thursday, April 7th 6:00pm | chicagolatinofilmfestival.org
Landmark Century Centre Cinema | 2828 N. Clark St. | 773-509-4949