Goodbye Momo Review

AKA: Adios Momo
Genre: Drama/Slice-of-Life/Fantasy
Year Released: 2005
Distributor: ArtMattan/Facets Video
Origin: Uruguay
Running Time: 107 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: 8 1/2, Cafe Transit, Natal de Portela, The Colors of the Mountain
Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:
-Goodbye Momo is from director Leonardo Ricagni. He has also worked on Red Roots, 29 Palms, and The Life Jacket Is Under Your Seat.

-Jorge Esmoris acted in this film. Some of his other work has been in films such as Mulher do Pai, The Story of Artigas, and Rincon de Darwin.

-Murga music is prominently featured in Goodbye Momo. It’s a hugely popular form of music in Uruguay but has its own scenes in Argentina and Panama. The origins have been rooted back in musical traditions in Cadiz, Spain. Murga incorporates a chorus with multiple drummers/percussionists accompanying them. The concerts are set up with costumes and have a theatrical feel.

-Literary Bonus: When Obdulio has one of his literacy lessons with the Night Watchman, he sees a “donkey” which is a rolling canvas that is used for murga bands to read their lyrics. The Night Watchman calls it “Rocinante” which is a clear reference to Don Quixote’s horse. That’s also the same name where the character Don Quixote Rocinante from One Piece got his name from, to any of my anime fan readers checking out this post.

-The score was handled by Emilio Kauderer. He has also contributed his musical talents for Made in Argentina, Conversations with God, and even Viva High School Musical. I’m not making this up, but that last example is an Argentinean remake of High School Music and was responsible for the tunes in that series. Yeah, that happened.

We’re going back to Uruguay on Iridium Eye. Hey, that rhymes! I haven’t covered too many things from that South American nation. The first time was the awkward rom-com Gigante. The second time was a co-production with an Angolan director for the phenomenal documentary Tango Negro which is one of the best musical and historical documentaries I’ve seen in quite some time. Much like that last example, this cinematic traveling is provided by ArtMattan once again and like the scenes in Montevideo in that documentary, this involves something about the Afro-Uruguayan community. Even with my reviewing Tango Negro, I don’t think too many people are aware that there are Black people in that part of Latin America. Sure, the average person on the street knows you have a considerable amount of people of African descent in countries like Brazil, Puerto Rico, or even the Dominican Republic, but there’s a good amount, especially in the capital of Montevideo.

Will this be a good example of positive representation in Uruguayan cinema?

Goodbye Momo takes place during the Carnival season in Uruguay. There’s an eleven-year-old orphaned boy named Obdulio who lives with his grandmother. He spends his days selling newspapers for his harsh boss Armenio despite being bullied and sometimes mugged by local ruffian teenagers just for doing his job. His biggest issue is that he’s illiterate and really doesn’t feel like going to school since he considers himself a “working man” of sorts when he’s not talking about or playing soccer or checking out the festivities during Carnival. Things take a peculiar turn when he sees the murga troupe called The Illusion Conspiracy and meets a mysterious man known as the Night Watchman. This man is a writer of sorts especially when it comes to murga lyrics. He heard from some gossiping Carnival drummers that Obdulio couldn’t read or write, so he offers to help him. Obdulio is hesitant at first, but they eventually have a gentleman’s deal involving a crumpled-up paper ball for him to do a penalty kick. Later on, Obdulio obliges to learn how to read or write with him and he eventually gets wrapped up in the magical moments of the murga scene during this Carnival season.

I went into this movie blind, but I did hear that this movie incorporated some magical realism moments which I will say were handled quite well. There were tasteful fade jump cuts used in some scenes, everything was colorful during the murga concert scenes, and everything felt so grounded. Truth be told, if they used CGI or tons of special effects, the movie would look so fake, so this grounded take on the magic was actually stronger despite having a lower budget than many a Hollywood film. The production certainly delivered with the colorful Carnival aspects or the darker lighting in the more impoverished parts of the city. Obdulio was likable enough of a character and I did want him to succeed with being able to read, but at the same time, he does have flaws like him being oblivious as to why reading is important or trying way too hard to work instead of trying to go to school like most kids out there. Watching the interactions with him and the adults telling him to get learned are very strong as an adult because they weren’t lying at all. Even the Night Watchman (I’m surprised people haven’t made any Tom Morello jokes about the name of this character) was likable with a healthy amount of eccentricity but well-intentioned in getting Obdulio to read. They do have an atypical teacher/student bond and I’m glad he is able to mention how he’s not the be and end all with learning about literacy, especially with the final act. The musical aspect was great. The murga performances were very colorful and fun. Baz Luhrman WISHES he could make something so vibrant without being pretentious or gaudy in the production. Good on the creators for doing so. Even the background music was quite quirky with some upbeat piano pieces, some candombe sections, and some light orchestral sweeps that don’t overpower everything. This movie was also quite wholesome without feeling like a Hallmark movie or a work that’s trying to play everything too safe. Some topics such as poverty, illiteracy, child labor, and a brief alcoholism subplot are there in the narrative. Most of those elements have been handled tastefully. There were some emotional elements like a murga funeral, Obdulio being able to write lyrics by himself, and the ending scene with multiple characters waving at Obdulio. There were some heartwarming moments that worked in this film.

Goodbye Momo should’ve said farewell to some things that hampered this movie. While the racial aspect of Obdulio isn’t shown as an issue for the plot and could technically pass the Deggans Rule by a technicality, there are still some racial pitfalls for the main character. He’s an orphan and they don’t explain how that happened. He’s constantly late for his job. Regardless of using his age as an excuse or how there were situations outside of his control (like being mugged in one example), this could perpetuate a stereotype that Black people are always late for work or important engagements. Of course, he’s in one of the poorer parts of the city, so this could add to any ghettoed implications. This also affects the dynamics between him and the Night Watchman. While that man has good intentions and legitimately helps Obdulio being literate in effective ways, this could be an example of white savior-isms. I almost gave Goodbye Momo the benefit of the doubt and would’ve thought he could’ve been a lighter-skinned Latino, but when I looked at Uruguay’s demographics, that seemed VERY unlikely (Uruguay is one of the whitest countries in the Americas and there’s a very tiny Latinx or Indigenous population despite being in South America). Going to the whole literacy issue, why couldn’t the grandmother teach Obdulio in her spare time when he got home from selling newspapers? This is one of the same plot holes I had an issue with Eleanor’s Secret since both movies involve boys with severe literacy issues, but even Nat from that movie was dealt with a much better hand than Obdulio since at least he has both of his parents with him as well as being from a middle-class family. Unlike that animated film at least they do explain why someone like Obdulio can’t read or write, but that plot hole still stands. The little sisters felt nonessential to the plot other than mentioning the fact that he has additional family, but they don’t factor into the story at all. The subtitles could’ve been improved. There were some misspellings and the insert songs weren’t subtitled. I’m thankful the murga songs were at least subtitled, but the songs outside of that weren’t which was very inconsistent. ArtMattan, don’t try to be like Viz, okay? I thought that those were the issues that prevented me from calling this a cinematic masterpiece.

This Uruguayan movie was just good, but nothing outstanding in my opinion. It was wholesome and had heartwarming elements, but there were some flaws with the storytelling. The characters are likable enough to make the audience want them to succeed, but some of the implications could be problematic. The soundtrack and murga scenes were certainly a highlight though. Goodbye Momo is mostly harmless for watching it, but I’ve seen other family-friendly movies with better content that I’ve even covered on this blog.

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-2 points if you like murga and candombe music.
-Add 1 point if you like magical realism in your movies.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you’re sick of seeing Black characters in impoverished backgrounds.
-Subtract 1-3 points if you need your movies plot hole-free.

-Competent cinematography and visual production
-Wonderful soundtrack
-Some moments will touch the heartstrings of most viewers in a genuine way

-Subtitle typos and omitted subtitles for insert songs
-White savior undertones with the Night Watchman
-Some of the literacy plot holes could’ve been avoided in simple ways

Final Score: 6/10 points

Content Advisory: Finding Momo would be a soft to medium PG. There are some characters who smoke and drink, but one character is strongly implied to die of alcohol poisoning after being beaten down with life. Obdulio gets attacked by pickpocketing teens a few times, but the violence wasn’t too major. Armenio (Obdulio’s boss) does use some mild swearing, but it’s very infrequent. Obdulio’s grandmother is a fortune teller and claims that spirits tell her things about her grandson’s wellbeing, but the depiction isn’t all that occult-esque.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Goodbye Momo is property of ArtMattan and Facets Video. The poster is from IMDb and is property of ArtMattan and Facets Video.

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