Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2016 7:10 pm 
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"Arty mash-up of crime thriller and full-frontal bromance"

Stephen Dalton's Toronto review in Hollywood Reporter isn't flattering ("Skaters battle haters in this muddled, misfiring Mexican melodrama"), but admits the action is vivid and the film sometimes stylish. It is vivid; I don't see much of the stylish part. Playing with urban Mexico City atmosphere and its scruffy gathering of marginal young men whose every other word is a chinga or a pendejo or a cabrón, Guatemala-born director Julio Hernández Cordón doesn't really generate enough heat or tell a compelling enough story. He lacks the storytelling skills to juggle or coordinate bromance (or bisexual relationship), generational angst, blood trafficking deal gone wrong, and confused lifestyle and come up with a movie that makes sense.

Miguel (Diego Calva) and Johnny (Eduardo Eliseo Martinez) are two young skateboarders who like to have sex, do drugs, skateboard naked, and make money giving blood sold to gangsters and getting others to do so, so Cordón would have us believe. Starting out with a party where there are hints of gay sex, the film suggests a degree of wildness that's not followed up upon.

Though Calva is tall and handsome, nobody, not even he really, has much style or charisma. His best mate Johnny, with whom he has a running quarrel, turns out to be the son of his family's maid -- a social difference that may faintly echo the relationship between Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna in Alfonso Cuarón's debut feature Y tu mamá también, but the filmmaking here is not of that caliber. Cordón relies on documentary elements that rarely bear full fruit. The greatest success is a gathering at which an intense young man takes a hit off a hash pipe and launches into an impassioned, powerful rap poem about his country and his generation. It is the high point of the film. If only anything else here were as intense, intelligent and real -- but nothing is.

Later, Johnny and Miguel's become enmeshed in a confused and confusing blood sale scam. It's never quite clear how it works, or why their encounter with a gangster is such a surprise to them. It goes south when a large group of their friends and street people who agree to participate are loaded into a truck -- and kidnapped. This was not what Johnny and Miguel intended, and in the process Miguel has lost his father's Jeep station wagon as well. After this there is a murder and the existing conflicts between the feckless Johnny and the more ambitious but weak Miguel grow more and more intense. But there's no adequate response to the disaster of the mass kidnapping they're responsible for: they just get high and play about and have sex; there's no follow-up. The movie feels thrown together.There are periodic intense, sometimes grating, musical moments, described by Dalton as ranging from "vintage alt-rockers Galaxie 500 to a terrific Spanish-language version of the pop standard 'Sunny' by Mexican guitar-twangers Los Iracundos."

The best Mexican film I have seen recently is Alonso Ruizpalacios' Güeros, a delightfully atmospheric road movie about the search for a musical idol at the time of the year-long 1999 university strike. It is full of visual wit, profound in its sense of the period, rich in cinematic style, and intelligent. So that's possible.

I Promise You Anarchy/Te prometo el anarchía, 89 mins., debuted at Locarno, showing in over a dozen other festivals including Vancouver, Rio, Havana and Miami. Five prizes and four nominations. Screened for this review as part of the 2016 New Directors/New Films series (FSLC/MoMA) in New York, Mar. 2016.

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