Friday July 7, 1995

     When Lauro, a Mexican photojournalist in Gabriel Retes' warmhearted serious comedy "El Bulto," awakens from a 20-year coma, his family naturally considers it a miracle. Yet so different is the world to Lauro, a dedicated leftist, and so violent is his reaction to it as a result, that his relatives' joy at his recovery starts to evaporate.
     Retes, who casts himself as the pale, gaunt Lauro, offers a sharp commentary on the course of Mexican society over the past two decades but is even more concerned with celebrating loving family life. Indeed, it's his depth and breadth of vision--enabling him to see people and life itself in the round--that bring such meaning to the big question facing Lauro: Will he accept the inevitability of change and the way his family is rather than the way he thinks he would like it to be, or will he give up and withdraw into himself? Will Lauro, in short, be able to take a large view of life, as Retes does?
     The heart of the matter for Lauro, who had been rendered comatose by a police beating while covering a student demonstration against an oppressive government, is crystallized in his disastrous reunion with his brother-in-law Ton~o (Jose Alonso), who unthinkingly launches into a description of his present-day good life, complete with luxury cars. Lauro, who claims that Ton~o had been "The "most Red of us all," judges him as a crass materialist and throws him out. Lauro is unaware that Ton~o had helped support his family during his long coma, serving as a loving, effective surrogate father--and that maybe he hasn't so much sold out as he has evolved.
     Retes reveals just how worthwhile it would be for Lauro to try to do some evolving himself. While it is true that Lauro's wife, Alba (Delia Casanova), a scientist on a project in the Amazon when her husband comes out of his coma, has long lived with another man, Lauro has two absolutely wonderful children, one a student (Juan Claudio Retes) and the other an aspiring actress (Gabriela Retes). They are bright, sweet-natured and have spent a substantial portion of their lives seeing to the physical therapy of their father and who are now prepared to help get him literally on his feet. (The family, mainly the son, had sometimes referred to Lauro as "El Bulto," or "The Lump.")
     Although he learns that his father has been dead for more than a decade, he still has his strong, loving mother (Lucila Balzaretti, who has a low, husky Simone Signoret voice), with whom he and his children live. And then there's his daughter's pretty older friend (Lourdes Elizarraras), who in helping care for Lauro has fallen in love with him.
     Retes does a terrific job of making Lauro's emergence from his coma and his subsequent challenge of resuming life absolutely credible and misses no opportunity to leaven it with humor. He reveals the full measure of his formidable imagination when he illuminates Lauro's situation with convincing psychological validity: Lauro's rages are as understandable as is his need to bring them under control.
     Retes' portrayal of Lauro is in itself remarkable; even more so is that he's also been able to create a totally successful ensemble from his first-rate cast. Finally, Retes has managed to make "El Bulto," for all the theatricality of its acting and writing, seem always cinematic.


El Bulto, 1995. Unrated. A Million Dollar Enterprises presentation. Producer-director Gabriel Retes. Executive producer Gonzalo Lora. Screenplay by Retes, Gabriela Retes and Maria del Pozo. Cinematographer Chuy. Editor Saul Aupart. Music Pedro Plascencia Salinas. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes. Gabriel Retes as Lauro. Gabriela Retes as Sonia. Juan Claudio Retes as Daniel. Lucila Balzaretti as Elena, the grandmother. Lourdes Elizarraras as Adela.