Did anyone here know it was the year of Mexico in the UK? Did anyone here know having a ‘year of…’ a certain country in the UK was a thing? I certainly didn’t but, hey, it’s a thing! Which makes for a truly special year for HOME’s (formerly Cornerhouse’s) annual Mexican cinema film festival ‘¡Viva! Presents New Mexican Cinema‘. Granted, it’s more of a low-key weekend showcase than a full on film festival but this year (it being the year of Mexico) HOME are having three long weekenders, this was the second of the year and my first ever.
Anyone who might have read my Blind Spot post on Y tu Mamá También (2002) will know that I tend to love Mexican and Spanish cinema more than any other World Cinema. This is a very sweeping statement, and it may just be that I am choosing Latin American films that are just really good, but I doubt Mexican and Spanish filmmakers are going to be up in arms about my sweeping claim that I just love all of it.
Which brings me to the films. My friend Mao watched all 6 of the films at the weekender and I managed half: En el último trago (2014) which means One for the Road (not ‘The Ultimate Tragedy’ like Mao thought it meant…), and the two I’m going to talk about now, Paraíso and Güeros. I’m planning on catching a talk that HOME is hosting on the Mexican Road movie tradition, so I’m going to talk about that along with En el último trago (2014) in another post as the talk isn’t until next month (so look out for that) but now I’m going to get right down to business!
Paraíso is about an overweight couple living in a small Mexican town when they have to relocate to Mexico city (giving up their dog, their nice house, Carmen’s job) for Alfredo’s new job. They are both confident, happy, seemingly-nice people who are clearly in love. This all changes when Carmen attends a one of Alfredo’s work parties and two of Alfredo’s co-workers/wives of co-workers start body shaming Carmen in the bathroom. What they don’t know is that Carmen was in a toilet cubicle and she heard their whole conversation.
Cue the straw that broke the camel’s back. Carmen starts attending a Weight-watchers type meeting and, not wanting to go through it alone, asks Alfredo to join her on her journey. However, what started as a joint effort has lead to Alfredo losing weight much more rapidly than Carmen, which leads to a strain in their relationship.
The film started off as a funny, honest look at a truly happily married couple, in a way that I’ve not often seen on screen. Their marriage wasn’t perfect but it made sense. Their weight did not get in the way of them being normal people (obvs) and I was looking forward to watching a body-positive movie that ended with Carmen accepting she was a beautiful woman (because, she was) and succeeding at yoga despite her weight and continuing going to cooking class like the strong, confident, independent woman I thought she was. However, after the first 40 minutes, you felt the film hit a slump. You were able to guess where the story was going. You knew what the inevitable conclusion was going to be. It promised so much at the beginning and then it didn’t really deliver.
Which is a real shame as it could have been so much more. I found Carmen and Alfredo’s characters to be people you could really warm to, characters that were honest and funny, but when the cracks formed in their marriage, all that was unique about the film unfortunately falls into a pattern that I would expect to see in a Hollywood rom-com rehash. And the films title? Paradise?! It makes no sense. I still love Mexican cinema though, it didn’t do enough to dishearten my love for for the whole cinematic landscape.
Güeros was an entirely different kettle of fish, in fact I’m still pondering it in my head, which is definitely a good thing and it re-affirmed everything that I love about Mexican cinema is still alive and well. This film was about a young boy, Tomas, who has become too much trouble for his mother so she sends him to live with his brother, a student in Mexico City. At this particular time, the students of the University are holding demonstrations because of Government plans to introduce tuition fees.
All the while Tomas and his brother go in search of an ageing/nearly dead obscure rock star whose music they were introduced to by their now absent father who may be in a hospital somewhere in Mexico City. Yeah, it’s got lots of themes going on. Including that of it’s title: as the film explains in it’s very first frame, Güeros means a Mexican person with really pale skin and blond hair. Tomas is most definitely a Güeros and sticks out even more so due to that fact his older brother is much darker.
Viva La Revolution
Completely black and white (maybe to emphasise my last point?), the demonstrations and news reports are reminiscent to me of La Haine (1995) which isn’t a totally odd comparison considering the film apparently draws on French New Wave influences (it is at this point that I must tell you I don’t believe I have seen any French New Wave films. Ever. I know, I’m ashamed, so I can’t actually confirm whether this is the case or not). But it’s certainly quirky and refreshing.
The film occasionally glides out of the fourth wall to recognise it’s ‘cliches’ as a small, independent, festival film and then proceeds to swiftly return to the narrative. I often relish this breaking of the fourth wall in a lot of films: Woody Allen does it a lot and very successfully so. In Güeros, it doesn’t happen often and I feel like because the film is dealing with protests and ageing rock stars and throwing some genuinely funny and clever lines into the mix, the film recognising itself as a film takes away from the initial messages the film puts across to it’s audience.
Or maybe this isn’t what it’s trying to put across? Maybe there have been too many films about protest in Mexico City and the film wanted to break out and try something else. Whatever you conclude, whatever it’s faults, you can’t hold it against the film for being exactly what it is, nothing more and nothing less. But iI can tell you one thing, Güeros isn’t just another ‘festival film.’