Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle (2017) [Toronto International Film Festival 2017]

Julita’s lifelong dream was to have lots of kids, a monkey, and a castle. She achieved all of these. Now, her son, actor Gustavo Salmerón has made a documentary on her life showing how she got to getting her dream realized, how the castle became cluttered with all kinds of mementos and things, and how things changed once she had to move out of the castle.

Gustavo Salmerón directed this personal, family story as a documentary that is something that feels a bit like the viewer is invading their personal space and thoughts, giving the film a family movie style that works both for and against it. The film is shot very much in that style of what one would expect from a home movie. It’s something that gives it personality but also detracts from the story and a bit from its impact. The director may have indeed been going for this, but it feels a bit odd.

The central subject of Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle, is Julita, the director’s mom and thus she is interviewed and shown for most of the run time as everything revolves around her and her life. The son’s point of view on her is very honest and personal, which gives the documentary a less than true documentary style. Her ways in front of the camera are definitely un-coached and she is very truthful even if a bit of an oddball. She’s one of those people that others either love or hate. She is a charming woman but some of her convictions and ideals are at odds with how most of society works. Her husband shows up here and there and he is charming and adorable. More of him would have been great. The son who is directing this clearly wanted to make the film about his mother and not his father which is too bad as his father is very interesting.

Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle is one of those documentaries that is interesting by its oddity, but it’s not something that will have a huge impact on most people. It’s a fun watch but there isn’t much else to it outside of getting to know a woman with a personality larger than life and a belief system that has kept her in a hoarding situation for years while also making her the keeper of memories for her family. It’s understandable while her son would do a documentary about her but it’s definitely a film for everyone.