Güeros, drama, not rated, in Spanish with subtitles, The Screen, 4 chiles
At its purest, cinema should unfold like a waking dream that envelops you in an alternate reality, then ejects you back into your life with a new exhilaration and inspiration. Mexican director Alonso Ruiz Palacios accomplishes just that in Güeros, announcing himself as one of the brightest new stars on the international film circuit with one of the finest debut features in years.
The story centers on teenage Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre) who acts up and forces his mother to send him to stay with his brother (Tenoch Huerta) at a university in Mexico City. The year is 1999, and the students are protesting the introduction of tuition fees. Tomás’ brother and friend, however, lead a slacker life in their dark apartment (“we’re protesting the protest”) until Tomás’ arrival forces them out of the building and into the bustling world.
Güeros is a politically charged and passionate look at youth who are disenfranchised by their country and slowly being splintered due to class differences. It’s easy to see it as a reflection of what twenty-somethings around the world are currently going through, but Güeros captures that desire to drift around the fringes and embodies the freedom of youth in changing times just as 1960s movies such as Easy Rider and the French New Wave films did.
The work of art it reminds me most of, however, is Roberto Bolaño’s 1998 novel, The Savage Detectives. Apart from the similar time periods, the parallels are clear: They’re both set in Mexico and feature several young, bright people who drive around in older cars. They are highly passionate and motivated, yet also aimless. Their loose quest revolves around finding an artistic legend: Cesárea Tinajero, the reclusive poet of Detectives, is replaced here by the object of the Güeros heroes’ obsession, forgotten rock star Epigmenio Cruz.
Make no mistake: Güeros is the kind of narrative that could only exist in the film medium. Damian Garcia’s black-and-white photography glides from one surprising image to the next, as if the film’s sole purpose is finding new ways to express the mundane. One scene takes place at an aquarium, with the characters appearing as silhouettes against the brightly lit tank, as seals swoop and glide through the water behind them. There is no reason for the scene to take place in this location, except for the fact that it’s a beautiful image.
These images are complemented by a sound mix that is frequently unusual and experimental. Silence and white noise occasionally blanket dialogue, letting our imaginations rush in to fill the gaps. This fragmented approach ultimately endears us to the actors more than a firm character arc; by the closing credits we’re still willing to get in the backseat of that car and follow them anywhere. — Robert Ker
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