It can be a holy grail of sorts in the documentary world if you’re a filmmaker with an eccentric family made for the cameras. Sometimes that feeling is forced, as in the recent, hopelessly twee Grandma’s things doc “306 Hollywood.” But in the case of actor Gustavo Salmerón’s loose, amusing feature debut, “Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle,” which similarly spotlights a robustly charming, hoarding matriarch, there’s at least a sense of affectionately elevated home movie.
Salmerón’s septuagenarian mother, Julita, who in the opening minutes requests that when pronounced dead, she be poked with a knitting needle just to be sure, and who once in a café mistook a vial of her children’s baby teeth for one with saccharine (“Waiter!”), is more than enough personality for a 90-minute visit.
The title, after all, refers to three youthful wishes that came true for this child of a brutalizing Spanish civil war: a big family (six adoring children), adopting a primate (it wasn’t as docile as promised) and moving into a castle (complete with suits of armor, a chapel and stained glass) — a purchase that excused going full-clutter and that proved financially unwise in an economically strapped Spain.
There’s a wisp of a through-line in one son’s desire to find, amids inexplicably kept life paraphernalia — unopened presents, fabric scraps, umbrellas — a pair of vertebrae from Julia’s slain grandmother. What Salmerón is after, however, is a simple portrait of hilarious exuberance, hard-won togetherness and strange wisdom. That search yields results.
‘Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle”
In Spanish with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 19, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills