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A Bearable Spanish 'Cub'

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2005; Page WE43

DON'T BE FOOLED by the title: "Bear Cub" is not, repeat not, a children's film about some adorable little fuzzy called Lester, who loses his parents at an early age, grows up to be the best dancing bear in the circus, then takes off into the Pacific Northwest for points unknown but glorious, accompanied by the sweet female cub he has always loved, Tea Moon.

(Disney, DreamWorks, I am now ready for the bidding war. Please fax me your offers.)

An uncle (Jose Luis Garcia Perez) and nephew (David Castillo) bond in the Spanish language film "Bear Cub." (Tla Releasing)

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No, "Bear Cub" is about the growing relationship between Pedro (Jose Luis Garcia Perez), a dentist in Madrid, and his 8-year-old nephew, Bernardo (David Castillo), whose two-week stay with his shaggy, gay uncle turns into a semi-permanent arrangement.

Pedro lives his life without much to worry about, except socializing in singles clubs and getting high with his equally bearded, slightly tubby and middle-age gay friends. But when his hippie-ish sister Violeta (Elvira Lindo) asks him to take care of Bernardo, he puts his lifestyle on temporary hold.

Bernardo's sweet, but he's no innocent, it turns out. His mom loves him and monitors everything about him, but she's a bit of a flake, a marijuana dealer and user who's about to run afoul of the authorities in India.

When Pedro and Bernardo hear the bad news of her arrest, they start living together. But Bernardo's estranged grandmother (on Bernardo's paternal side) has her own ideas about the proper way to raise the boy. She has a lawyer.

After its intriguing setup, "Bear Cub" loses a little traction and starts to slide. The remainder of the movie is about nephew and uncle banding together to face external problems. And a fourth-quarter surprise doesn't add that much to the story, except render it somewhat banal. But as co-written (with Salvador Garcia Ruiz) and directed by Miguel Albaladejo, "Bear Cub" ("Cachorro" is its original Spanish-language title) has a refreshingly original attitude. Pedro never really has to justify his lifestyle to the audience or the kid.

This becomes clear in an early scene in which a friend of Pedro comes to visit while Bernardo is there and pulls out a joint he very much intends to smoke. Pedro goes nuts and tells his buddy to stop. But he's only doing that because he assumes Bernardo will be horrified. The kid has no problem with it. He's seen it all before. This scene and other ones in the picture would likely be seen as examples of moral depravity by the ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America and other deliberative bodies in the United States. But "Bear Cub" presents it all as matter-of-fact storytelling -- something to deal with, morally speaking, but nothing to get sanctimoniously hysterical about. Had the story had more oomph to it, its stance would have seemed a lot more important as an artistic issue. But as things sit, it's an abstract plus indeed.

BEAR CUB (Unrated, 99 minutes) -- Contains mature sexual themes, drug use, sexual content and obscenity. In Spanish with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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