Posted August 19, 2010 by Marcia Degia - Publisher in DVD/Blu-ray

El Bola DVD/ BR

A horrifically brutal and accurate
potrayal of child abuse, Acero Manas’ El Bola is much deserved of its five Goya
(Spanish Oscars) awards.

Child abuse is a difficult subject matter
to tackle in film, with a fine line on how far a filmmaker can push the
boundaries without being accused of exploitation. At the time of the film’s
release in 2000, Spain was reported to have the highest level of domestic
violence in Europe, mainly meted out by husbands and fathers. Achero Mañas
certainly reflects this crisis, in El Bola, of a culture where some feel that
it is a man’s right to dominate over one’s family, with an iron fist.

The film opens in Madrid, Spain, with two
kids, playing a game of dare, dangerously dodging an oncoming train in which
the two attempt to pick up an empty bottle from the track without getting,
literally, railroad in the process.

One of these kids is 11-year old Pablo
(Juan Jose Ballesta), possibly hellbent on a deathwish. Why? We have yet to
find out. Nicknamed ‘The Pellet’
because of a pellet he keeps with him as a token for good luck, his life is
overshadowed in grief by the tragic death of a sibling. His unhappiness is
further compounded by the presence of his elderly paternal grandmother of
Mariano whom he is forced to bathe
by his struggling parents.

New classmate, the outgoing Alfredo (Gallan), finally brings some light into his friendless life, but is considered
to be an unsuitable by Pablo’s father Mariano (Moron) because Alfredo’s own father, Jose
(Gimenez), is a shaved h tattoo artist. In reality, he lives a
comparably normal family life with Jose treating his son more like a friend. In
fact, it is he who alerts the social services when they discover some scars
upon Pablo’s body. Mariano displeasure culminates in a severe beating of his
son, and the shockingly violent images that are not easy to watch. This is a man
taking out his life’s frustration on a vulnerable child, to the max.

Pablo is taken to a hospital and a doctor
tends to his horrific injuries. Further tests reveal prior abuse. Shockingly,
the authorities are not compelled to bring in the social services and the
question is, whether the boy should return back into the unloving arms of his
. This is perhaps a real-life approach to such a dilemma rather than a
Hollywood ending a la The Blind Side.

Much to Mañas’ credit, at first, there is
little evidence of Mariano’s brutish behaviour towards his son, which is later
revealed to include burning him with cigarettes and forcing to drink his own
. Certainly, Pablo does not cower in the presence of his father but there
is a harshness in the man’s manner, towards his family, that suggests that
something is amiss, below the surface. If anything, Pablo is as stubborn as any
child of that age, trying to assert himself in the family dynamics. Goya winner, Juan José Ballesta excels in
his role as Pablo and Manuel Moron puts in a fine performance as the abusive

It ain’t pretty to watch but be grateful
for its re-release for a reality-lick.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia has worked in the media industry for more than 10 years. She was previously Acting Managing Editor of Homes and Gardens magazine, Publishing Editor at Macmillan Publishers and Editor of Pride Magazine. Marcia, who has a Masters degree in Screenwriting, has also been involved in many broadcast projects. Among other things, she was the devisor of the documentary series Secret Suburbia for Living TV.