Sunday, May 17, 2015

Güeros: A Lyrical Love Letter to Mexico City

By José Alberto Hermosillo

AFI FEST REVIEW: Radiant and bold. “Güeros” is a gem sculpted by the new and promising generation of Mexican filmmakers.

“Güeros” is a portrait of a confrontational generation we are unaware of, but it allows us to discern their existence and purpose in time.
Alonso Ruizpalacios, AFI FEST 2014. Photo by Jose Hermosillo COPYRIGHTS Festival in LA

Director Alonso Ruizpalacios had something in mind: to transcend a larger-than-life film reflecting the soul, music, culture, and effervescent youth of Mexico City in the form of a poetic love letter. 

“Güeros” has the style of “Y tú mamá también” and the fresh look of “Lake Tahoe.” 

This unapologetic coming-of-age, hyper-realistic, inner-city, road movie has been satisfying audiences in festivals around the world, winning: Best First Feature Film at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival, the New Auteurs Audience Award at AFI FEST 2014 in Los Angeles, the Havana Film Festival Grand Coral For Best First Work.

“Güeros” has been nominated for 12 Ariel Awards by the Mexican Academy, winning best picture.

“Güeros” pays tribute to Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim,” Godard’s “Band of Outsiders,” and Hellman’s “Two-Lane Black Top.” 

The director’s real inspiration was “Los Caifanes/The Outsiders” by Juan Ibañez (1966), one of the best independent films in Mexico's history. 

Set in 1999, a fair-skinned teenager named Tomás is sent by his tiresome widow mother from Veracruz to live with his dark-skinned big brother Sombra, played by Tenoch Huerta (“Deficit,” “Days of Grace”), in Mexico City. Sombra has depression and panic attacks. Ironically, the doctor (director’s cameo) recommends a vacation in Veracruz.

Sombra’s roommate Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris), is also light-skinned and hates to be called "güero."

One of Mexico's endless conflicts is the battle between "güeros" and “morenos” (light-skinned v. dark-skinned), also discussed in Carlos Reygadas's “Post Tenebras Lux” and hundreds of other Mexican films. The difference is that “Güeros” is more subtle.”

Sombra and Santos are students at the U.N.A.M. (National Autonomous University of Mexico). The college is closed due to the student strike. 

As “outsiders,” they are questioning the actual ideology of the movement that conflicts with their own ideas, goals, economy, and the country’s future.

As they witness the anarchy on campus, nostalgia is felt for their "Ama Mater."

The only remembrance little Tomás has of his father is an audiotape of a folk-rock singer Epigmenio Cruz that he listens to obsessively on his Walkman.

The urban legend says: "Once Epigmenio Cruz made Bob Dylan cry." 

In their quest to find the legendary and mythical singer, a series of unfortunate events push them to travel from their old apartment building north of the city to the south, facing the dangers and paranoia of a hostile environment - nothing that a humongous bottle of cerveza "Caguama" can't cure.

At the chaotic University, they meet Ana (Ilse Salas). She is the leader of the student movement and also a radio personality at the rebel underground radio station - The same station the guys were listening to in their car earlier.

She needs a break from the conflict and joins them in their quest for Epigmenio. The quartet doesn't give up and continues their trip from the South of the City to the Chapultepec Zoo to get more clues. Then, to the Zocalo (Mexico's City Downtown), where they will have their "La Dolce Vita" moment at a fancy pool party, where they get in trouble again.  

They go from the Centro to their final destination, a Cantina in the East-neighbor city of Texcoco. Inside, the TV set has Juan Gabriel singing "Hasta que te conocí/Until I Met You," which plays along very well with the scene's climax. 
The performance of the charismatic actress Ilse Salas is dominant. Her fresh looks and big eyes remind us of the Italian actress Giulietta Masina (Fellini's lifetime partner) - ("Juliet of the Spirits," "The Nights of Cabiria," "La Strada").

Ana fights against the misogynist 'macho' men yelling at her they want to see her breast, not a woman's leadership.

Young Tomás is played by talented new actor Sebastian Aguirre. He has the strength and the right heart to allow the audience to see the world from his perspective.

On the other hand, the character of Sombra takes too long to come to terms with the plot's reality. One can understand his depression and traumas, but one or two good speeches are insufficient to reach his full potential.

By trimming down a few unnecessary shots, this film could render at a faster pace to its already "black and white" 'artsy look.'

"Güeros" is a rare Mexican film with global reach, universal emotions, and likable characters. The nostalgic film's music, poetry, and lyrics hide a deeper meaning to the story. 

The well-articulate script connects brotherhood, friendship, and the enigmatic Ciudad de Mexico with the “Youth in Revolt.”

“Güeros” is not a political statement. It does not support the left or the right wing. Existentialism is present in every life of those four great characters. They are focused on surviving and reaching emotional fulfillment in a cosmopolitan city full of contrast.

“Güeros” is part of a new and diverse Mexican Cinema searching for a global audience. Mexico's film production went from 12 to 120 movies a year in the past twelve years, a 100% increase. 

Due to the awards in festivals around the World and the Oscars that Mexican directors known as the "Three Amigos" have won in recent years, some publications wrote: “Hollywood loves Mexican directors, but hates Mexican movies.” That’s one of the main reasons why not many Mexican films get distributed in the USA. In a "fair play," things may change if we could aspire to develop a market where diversity and inclusion should be the ultimate goals.   

"Güeros" Trailer:

Film critic Jose Hermosillo, director Alonso Ruizpalacios at AFI FEST 2014. 
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