Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Alonso Ruizpalacios' fluid, energized, gorgeous GÜEROS -- new and special from darkest Mexico

One of the great pleasures of viewing all these small independent, foreign and documentary films is that, sitting yourself down in a Manhattan screening room and awaiting what's about to be shown -- particularly when it's a first full-lengther from a director of whom you've not heard -- you just never know what you're going to get. When what you get is as bracing and original as GÜEROS, the new film directed and co-written (with Gibrán Portela) by Alonso Ruizpalacios, you want to stomp and shout and maybe write a review like the following.

What Señor Ruizpalacios has accomplished is genuinely special, an explosion of utterly crack black-and-white cinematography that brings to life a strange and marvelous, yet in some ways ordinary story melding social issues, politics, coming-of-age, revolution, love and sex -- everything, in fact, that you might expect from a modern-day Mexican movie except kidnapping, torture and murder. (There is one scene that seems to presage some of this, but fortunately we're whisked away to better things.)

I have no idea where or how Ruizpalacios came up with the germ of this idea and then brought it all to fruition. Wherever and however, it has turned out wonderfully well. From the opening that begins with a definition of the title word and then a shot of what looks like maybe some eggs to a rooftop endeavor that goes very wrong to incident after incident that leap and spring and roll over one another until a kind of mosaic of an entire society comes into focus -- this is one hell of a rich, energetic and beautiful experience.

For some of us more jaded reviewers, in fact, Güeros is not unlike discovering movies for the first time. Comparisons have been made to the French New Wave. Believe me, they're apt. Ruizpalacios mixes politics, class, and humanity's striving in a unique way. At times, his film will seem like a kind of not-just-waiting-but-actively-searching for Godot -- and then, yes, actually finding him!

The biggest difference between this film and the 60s New Wave is probably society itself, which has now moved on, in an increasingly fast and furious manner, from life as it was then to the utter craziness of now. (Or at least the Mexican student riots of 1999, during which the film is set.) Movies have kept up with these changes, of course, and occasionally perhaps surpassed them, as I think Ruizpalacios' film is doing. One of the beauties of this movie is how what you initially imagine the film will be about keeps growing, changing and widening its scope into something much richer and more important. Like life itself.

For a long while, the movie appears to be about boys and young men scamming and/or just having fun. Then a musical performer/idol of the boys enters the picture, followed by a politically active girlfriend  -- all of which which takes the film into new and more expansive realms. How the filmmaker ties all this together, while leaving much of it still open-ended, is what makes Güeros the wondrous accomplishment that it finally becomes.

The beautiful, lustrous black-and-white cinematography by Damián García (El Infierno) is a huge asset here, as are the fine performances, real enough to have you sometimes imagine that you're watching a documentary. The well-chosen cast includes a quartet of players, the best-known of whom is the uber-charismatic Tenoch Huerta (above, left, and at bottom, of Deficit, Casi Divas, Get the Gringo and Sin Nombre), who here has perhaps his best role yet as the older brother. Huerta has that kind of James Dean magnetism that captures us by never pushing and, in fact, playing hard-to-get.

Younger brother is played by Sebastián Aguirre (above and on poster, top), who nicely combines the anger of adolescence with the need to learn and grow. He easily carries us -- -and the movie -- via this learning experience. Best friend Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris), though by necessity the character who must fade into the background, fades quite well, while Ilse Salas, below, who has the single major woman's role, connects the movie to both sexuality and politics with enormous energy and spirit.

Constantly pulsating with life and ideas, Güeros might prove to be such an arthouse find, if not an out-and-out crowd-pleaser, that Señor Ruizpalacios may never again come up with anything quite so spectacular. But I'll bet you'll want to be sitting in the theater when his next film appears.

From Kino Lorber, in Spanish with English subtitles and running 106 minutes, the film opens tomorrow, May 20, in New York City at Film Forum. In the weeks and months to come, it will open in Santa Barabara, Montreal, Denver, Houston and Victoria, BC. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates with cities and theaters listed.

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