Maroa – A Venezuelan Masterpiece About Misery, Survival and the Power of Music

The reality of children who survive in the streets is not at all uncommon for South American countries. It’s not just poverty. It’s misery and violence and hopelessness. However, once in a while, we learn of the one child who rises above this dark hole and becomes a source of light, without a fairy godmother, but with the inner power of his or her own spirit and tenacity.

Maroa belongs to the latter group.

Maroa, released in 2005, a Venezuelan and Spanish co-production, presents a crude picture of what we know as the “street-children.” Thousands of these kids roam the main avenues in Caracas, Venezuela’s overpopulated capital city. These children are in some cases gang members, orphans, almost always illiterate, and in some extreme cases abandoned and abused children.

Directed by Swedish-born Solveig Hoogesteijn, this film is not an stereotype. This is a masterpiece which deserves an standing ovation for its original concept and a spectrum of superstars that give each character a bold, unique essence.

The film opens to show us loud and vivacious Maroa (newcomer Yorlis Dominguez), an 11-year old girl who makes a living selling porn magazines to bus drivers, “estampitas” (small postcards with pictures of saints and a prayer), and other gadgets.

Maroa is dashing and colorful and she loves to imitate Shakira. What captures you is the fact that she doesn’t seem at all tainted by her surroundings. She is a girl. She loves being one. She plays with dolls, just like any girl her age.

There is a something in Maroa’s life that distinguishes her from the others around her, her die-hard passion for music. Maroa is all about music. She may not know what song is which, and she thinks the classics are for funerals, but she is never indifferent to the sound of music. Not ever.

Maroa lives with a very abusive grandmother (Award-winning actress Elba Escobar), who adores the child, and, at the same time, can’t stand her individualism and her rebellious attitude. Brigida just doesn’t know how to get to Maroa. Grandma’s world is clouded with bad memories, cigar smoke, senseless sex. Nonetheless, the bond between the two is absolutely unbreakable and touching.

Maroa’s best friend is another kid very much like herself who brags about being a gang leader and spends his days hopping from one parking lot to the next stealing radios and other car parts to resell.

One day a series of murderers has everyone in Maroa’s barrio in vigil. People appear dead overnight and the only person that the police pin-points is “El Carlos”, Maroa’s troublesome friend.

Reality is very different as we find out that a ruthless police officer (Luke Grande) may have his corrupted and twisted ways in the matter.

Maroa runs away from home and it’s placed on a special school, where most attendees are either delinquents or abandoned children. It looks and feel just like a prison and the lady-guards have very little mercy on these children.

The punishment for these children is hard labor and Maroa can’t escape her fate. However, one morning she happens to be moping the hallways, she listens straining to the beautiful sound of a clarinet which is being played masterfully by the school’s dashing music teacher, Joaquin (TristÃ?¡n Ulloa from Sex & Lucia and Mensaka, among other award winning Spanish films).

Joaquin and Maroa had already met once before in a parking lot where she happened to have stolen from Joaquin’s own vehicle.

Joaquin recognizes the child and he is more than willing to forgive this wild girl with copious black hair and shiny eyes. From thereon, teacher and student become almost inseparable.

The film is very realistic and leaves very little to the imagination when it comes to the cruelty of the streets and the corruption of the justice department. What surprises most viewers are the clever punch-lines that constitute the very chore of the movie.

Maroa is also subtly erotic as we see the child wanting to act like a woman; the long looks that Maroa dedicates to her much older music teacher; the captivating hours of music practice where both Joaquin and Maroa exchange silent vows of devotion and appreciation; the silliness of Maroa’s jealousy as Joaquin eludes her childish advances, to mention just a few instances.

The music is a balm to the soreness and the sordidness of the film’s dark alleys. Music is what keeps us wanting more and more, and the movie delivers it. No doubt!

Dominguez was chosen among thousands of pre-teens to play the title role. Casting directors saw this little girl and they knew they have found what they were after. Dominguez gives a fiery and candid performance, bringing the audience to its feet. She mixes humor with anger with innocence in a cocktail that turns out to be absolutely captivating.

Paying attention to the details is a must. Listen to the music and let your heart be filled with an unforgettable lesson about endurance, determination and everlasting zest for life.

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