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Cinema in Focus: ‘Instructions Not Included’

This Spanish language film with subtitles is a wonderful parable of growth in self-less love

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

All of us begin life self-absorbed. Though we like to think that we mature out of that infantile perspective, the truth is that maturity is not automatic. Our experiences and the people with whom we share them give us opportunities to begin to care more about others than we do about ourselves. This important life lesson is the theme of Eugenio Derbez's film Instructions Not Included.

An experienced actor, director and writer, Derbez does all three in this Spanish language film, along with the writing skills of Guillermo Rios and Leticia Lopez Margalli.

Derbez's charm as lead character Valentin lies in his expressiveness and vulnerability. A player who beds the tourists who are vacationing in his hometown of Acapulco, Valentin has no real job or responsibility. But when Julie (Jessica Lindsey) shows up on his doorstep with a baby, suddenly his sexual escapades are about someone other than himself.

Not even remembering her name, Valentin doesn't realize her intentions when she borrows $10 to pay the cab. Leaving the baby in his arms, she flees for the airport and her home in Los Angeles. Thus begins Valentin's shared life with adorable Maggie (Loreto Peralta at 7 years of age).

Having followed Julie to L.A. to find her and return baby Maggie to her, Valentin serendipitously finds himself a job as a stuntman. This high-risk job is all the more unexpected because of his father Johnny Bravo's (Hugo Stiglitz) unorthodox way of preparing him for life by purposefully scaring him to death. Explaining that his fears are like a wolf that he must stare down, the film allows us to experience his fears by mystically depicting wolves. Having to take responsibility to provide for his daughter, Valentin faces the wolves daily and bravely overcomes his fears.

Maggie's charm is in her belief in her father, who gives her everything she wants to make her happy. The expectation that she would be spoiled is not true; she is playful, joyful and trusting. Writing a letter every week telling her of her mother's fictional escapades and love for Maggie and addressing it from her mother, Valentin covers up Julie's self-absorbed decision to abandon her daughter.

Until one day Julie reappears. That begins the journey for Julie to move beyond herself to love for her daughter, but it is a difficult path with many unexpected turns on the road.

Although we all know that living for one's self is not only immature but also empty, we often are brought into maturity kicking and screaming. But once we arrive, we realize that the life we lived before doesn't even begin to compare with a life of self-less love. That is a message that is not only proclaimed by artists like Derbez in this film but by the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The transformation of Valentin from a completely self-absorbed hedonist to a deeply compassionate father is heartwarming and gives us a glimpse into the remarkable power of love to heal the soul.

Discussion:

» How did you discover the importance of selfless love? Who was instrumental in that growth in your life?

» When Valentin's father scared him in order to give him courage, he was attempting to prepare him for life. How did your parents prepare you for the dangers of life?

» The final crisis that brought Valentin and Julie together opened the door for healing. What has occurred in your life to bring healing to the relationships you have that were broken?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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