Home videos from Argentine director Ana García Blaya’s childhood furnish her autobiographical first feature, Las buenas intenciones (The Good Intentions), with an invaluable component that makes her memories tangible and places them in dialogue with fictionalized reenactments that comprise the rest of this hybrid tribute to her father.
Incorrigible man-child and bohemian womanizer Gustavo (Javier Drolas), a musician with a career that hasn’t taken flight and whose strongest bond is an unconditional bromance with bachelor best bud Néstor (Sebastian Arzeno), makes for an inept parent to three children – Amanda (Amanda Minujin), Manu (Ezequiel Fontenla) and Lala (Carmela Minujin) – in 1990s Buenos Aires during a dire economic crisis.
He’s that dad whose suave personality would make your friends jealous because of how down-to-earth he is but who you know can barely be responsible for his own safety, much less that of a pack of children. Drolas exudes that infuriatingly nonchalant attitude but strategically imbues his performance with small notes of genuine concern for his inability to care for them.
García Blaya’s use of actual family footage serves as a bridge between the feelings these recollections evoke.
Nights of debauchery that result in neglect, in addition to his lack of substantial income given that he runs a record shop with low clientele, push his ex-spouse Cecilia (Jazmín Stuart) to accept her new partner’s plan of moving to Paraguay. Realistically, Gustavo knows it’s for the best, but pre-teen Amanda refuses to leave him and vows to get scholarships to cover school fees. She takes on a reversed caretaker role afraid for his well-being.
García Blaya’s use of actual family footage serves as a bridge between the feelings these recollections evoke, which are expressed through the recreated portions and the glimpses of truth captured on camera at the time. From this intermingling between the real past and the past filtered through artistic subjectivity, the final product is the best version of the events, because it takes into account what really happened but then coats that with the transformation and embellishments that cinema allows for.
In those resurrected clips, we see the real-life Gustavo (whose name beyond the screen is Javier Blaya) and Ana García Blaya instead of Amanda, which increments the impact of The Good Intentions, a personal project that’s visually conventional, but thrives on the thoughtful assemblage of its parts takes in an out of the scripted and raw sections. Understandably, this work takes its name from a song by Javier Blaya’s band, Sorry – a group name that likely in itself symbolizes a permanent musical apology on his behalf.
Touching whilst avoiding sentimentality, this endearing debut seems like García Blaya’s cinematic letter to let him know everything is forgiven, and on-screen Amanda communicates that message.
For a long stretch, the focus stays on Gustavo failing to improve. But in the latter half, there’s a shift to Amanda’s realization that her plan is futile and neither hers nor her father’s good intentions are enough to make the precarious situation work. Exhibiting her character’s precocious maturity, young Minujin emerges as the most valuable player for how she relates the emotional toll caused by the burden of circumstances beyond Amanda’s control.
Instead of putting her dad’s proxy on trial for his selfish behavior, the director, through her own surrogate Amanda, accepts that some people won’t change.
A scene between her and Drolas discussing the future carries a muted sadness; as Amanda struggles to mask the blend of relief and worry that inundate her in that pivotal exchange and she can’t make known. It’s the kind of moment that requires calibrated sensibility, and Minujin delivers the goods in subtly.
Instead of putting her dad’s proxy on trial for his selfish behavior, the director, through her own surrogate Amanda, accepts that some people won’t change and that peace may come from loving the parts of them that have value beyond their flaws. García Blaya cherishes Gustavo’s spontaneous spirit, the music he shared with her and her siblings and his somewhat absurd determination to not compromise his larger-than-life persona.
Echoing with a dose of defeat and another of resignation, the movie’s title speaks of that very understanding that not everyone can muster the will to evolve even if they attempt to. As much as father and daughter would sincerely love to be together, the factual mechanics of their lives won’t allow for that, and becoming someone else, who she needs him to be, has proven an impossibility for the adult in this equation.
Once the inevitable comes to pass, what Amanda can hold on to is her dad’s desire to try, the effort he showed – as minimal as it could appear to have been – not to break her heart. Sometimes that unsuccessful intent is all there is, and she chooses to interpret it as love. It’s terribly imperfect and just the best he can manage to offer but love all the same.
The Good Intentions made its U.S. premiere earlier this month at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.