Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Mexican cinema: FSLC hosts Naranjo's DRAMA/MEX and I'M GONNA EXPLODE

Toward the end of Trust-Movies' inter-
view with Fernando Eimbcke last month (the interview's here), the young Mexi-
can filmmaker spoke sadly of how there are so many good Mexican films being made today, and though these are
seen and heralded at

international festivals, they are not getting a release in their own country. Two Mexican films that have hit the circuit and received domestic distribution -- Gerardo Naranjo's DRAMA/MEX from 2006 and his latest I'M GONNA EXPLODE (2008) -- are about to burst into the NYC-consciousness courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, as both begin a week-long, in-tandem run at the Walter Reade Theater. (You can find the schedule and ticket availability here.)

If cinema reflects its country of origin, and I believe it always does, then things are not looking up for Mexico, nor have they in all of my lifetime (Bunuel was not imagining things with his imaginative crea-
tions). Scratch a Mexican movie and -- unless it's a nitwit romantic comedy or something on the order of the soap-opera slushy, Latin American co-production La Mujer de mi hermano that was released here a few years back -- you're likely to have your nose rubbed in heavy-duty class divisions, with the nasty rich struggling to hold onto everything they have, while the poor and would-be upwardly mobile, hardly much better, are scrambling to pull themselves up by their crap-infested bootstraps. Nothing changes and everything looks grim -- though it's often brought to life with great style.
(Have you seen Nicotina, now available on DVD?)

Of late, Canana Films -- the production company headed by Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Pablo Cruz and Geminiano Pineda -- has brought out a number of Mexican movies (as well as distributing inter-
national films such as Gomorrah in Mexico). These include the recent (and disappointing) Rudo y Cursi, Bernal's interesting directorial debut Déficit (which put me in mind of Leopoldo Torre Nilsson's Argentine film La Terraza, but played in color, al fresco, in modern times, and one generation younger) and the two films from Señor Naranjo (who is shown immediately above) that are under discussion here.

With many Latin American films I've seen, particularly those from Mexico (Señor Eimbcke's are the exception), I leave the viewing angry at everyone I've been watching on screen: rich, poor and in-between. They never seem to learn or to grow up. Preparing to write this blog, it began to occur to me why this should be so. If the characters on view are simply reflecting their parental training and what they see around them, how could the result be anything different? Down the generations, what role models -- parental or governmental -- have they been able to learn from? OK: this is simplistic, but that doesn't make it untrue. There are, of course, rare exceptions to the rule, little of which we see in Mexican film. And when we do, it's likely to be situated in the countryside or a small town well out from under the thumb of the system. In any case, I have come to the conclusion that I have perhaps unfairly been blaming Mexico's artists for not giving me the "good times" I prefer from movies. Instead they continue to produce the kind of films that reflect their country -- warts and nothing but.

In Naranjo's two movies, we see it all again. Drama/Mex offers two groups of people living in what I believe is the former vacation/
tourist paradise of Acapulco, now gone rather to seed. A young girl (played by the lovely Diana Garcia, shown above, of Sin Nombre and the upcoming Casi Divas), her former and current boyfriends (and their hangers-on) do the dance of love and jealousy, while a "family man" (oh, boy, is he ever!) takes a powder from his family, some unearned money from his work, and rents a hotel room on the beach. There he meets a young girl (well-limned by Miriana Moro, shown below) who's toying with the prospect of prostitution. Connections are made and broken; as usual, nothing changes.

Stylistically, Naranjo likes shooting on a widescreen and his compositions are interesting and often beautiful, even when his subjects are not. He casts attractive, talented actors and draws good performances from them all. And, in this film, anyway, he seems an economical director who does not waste time and energy on repetition. (Interestingly, the IMDB gives two running times for Drama/Mex: 105 and 93 minutes. I saw the shorter version, and so perhaps missed out on the longueurs.)

In I'm Gonna Explode (the sexual connotation is quite apt), two disaffected students, the son of a government official (Juan Pablo de Santiago, above right) and the daughter (Maria Deschamps, above left) of a seemingly kind but ineffective mother, have bonded around their "outsider" status. When they decide to "run away," the parents and media call it a kidnapping (the boy's of the girl), and the usual media circus ensues. Given that this is Mexico, the circus is far dumber, if more fun, than what we usually get here in the USA. That the kids are pretty much hiding in plain sight makes the whole thing both sillier and more insightful (the boy is stealing the food that feeds the pair from his own home). The twosome's halting attempts at creating an alternate universe where they can exist and perhaps learn and grow is funny and moving. But again, what kind of role models do they have to learn from?

As the movie proceeds, we visit the countryside. Here life -- and people -- seem freer and healthier (is it this countryside locale that helps make Eimbcke's Lake Tahoe such a sweet film?), and the open spaces provide another opportunity for the director to capture glorious widescreen images (such as the one shown below). But then, as life closes in on the pair, the writer/director gives over to melodrama of the heightened sort that will either pull you in and shake you up -- or, in my case, frustrate you with its Romeo & Juliette clichés and the interminable length they take to spin out (this movie does indeed last its full 106 minutes). Still, you'll get another good dose of Mexico today (and yesterday and tomorrow) from I'm Gonna Explode. "Don't do it!" you'll want to plead with the young man, prior to that explosion (the one that comes his complete frustration, not from his sexual needs). But then you'll probably realize: The inevitable is the inevitable.

I am hoping to do an interview with Gerardo Naranjo tomorrow,
Wednesday. If so, I'll have it posted over the weekend, if not before.

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