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Small Miracles in Reinbou
“Don’t get eaten by the crazy man in the woods,” Ángel Maceta’s aunt teases as he sets off by himself to school, beyond the village.
The little boy’s mother, Inma, tells him not to take on his aunt. But perhaps he should, because this film by David Maler and Andrés Cubelo, set in the Dominican Republic, is a mix of fact and fairytale, past and present, until all its strands are finally, deftly woven into one.
If there is a crazy man in the woods, though, Maceta is the last person who needs to worry about him. He’s a sweet seven-year-old, doted on not only by his mother but by everyone in his village—except the schoolmaster—and he returns that love with generosity and optimism.
Ángel Maceta’s character shines through the first scene in which he appears: completely fascinated by some tiny, insignificant object, he doesn’t notice when the bucket he is filling at a standpipe overflows. Then he’s late for school—not for the last time. Enchanting though he is, you can see why his teacher finds him exasperating. Maceta is given to roaming wherever his fancy takes him. He’s a bright child, but a daydreamer, and book learning is not for him—until one day at school he finds a magic book that he’s convinced is going to help him find treasure.
Meanwhile, his family needs any treasure he can put his hands on: while they’re close and affectionate, they don’t have much by way of material things. It doesn’t help that his mother and the twin aunts who live with them are too fiercely independent to keep the subservient, exploitative jobs that are the only work they can get. They come from a line of rebels, as Maceta’s magic book reveals.
Thanks to the book, too, the family’s story is gradually told, through flashbacks to the 1965 civil war that tore the Dominican Republic apart. Otherwise the tranquil life of the village would seem as if it’s continued untroubled and unchanged for decades in picturesque poverty. There are even some comic moments, such as when Maceta’s mother erupts in a protest against her employers, who also symbolise the de-facto colonial power, the United States. Then there are the ludicrous 70s fashions sported by her sisters’ employer, the sleazy club owner Molina.
But even these seemingly light-hearted moments are connected with the buried past. Sudden, sometimes brutal interludes uncover their links to the suppressed story of the country and its occupation just a few years before by a “peacekeeping” force of US Marines. These episodes answer, too, Maceta’s innocent questions about the identity and the whereabouts of his absent father—questions that have been too painful for his mother to answer. But sometimes, thanks to his book, he literally digs up the truth.
Maceta’s belief in miracles may be unshakeable simply because he’s so young, but because that belief is so strong, he also gives some of the adults around him the strength to take steps to make changes in their own lives and do what needs to be done.