Tag Archives: Mexico

Climax

9 Mar

‘Climax’: Oh, Noé, the drinks have been dosed and the dancers are all too disturbingly into it

 

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No, “Climax” has nothing to do with the New England Patriots owner and a brothel in Florida. It’s just the latest from take-him-or-leave-him French provocateur Gaspar Noé, of such haunting and stylish depictions of depravity as “Irréversible” (2002) and “Enter the Void” (2009). The former revolved around a brutal rape in a dingy Parisian underpass, while the latter unfurled a techno-charged odyssey about a soul seeking rebirth after drug deal gone wrong in the bowels of Tokyo. Here, Noé gives us a dance party that goes wildly off the rails and beyond.

“Climax” is disorienting on many levels. It begins with a blank white screen, and you half expect credits to roll before a woman in a sleeveless leotard staggers into view. It’s a top-down shot, and you realize she’s trudging through snow – and surely must be freezing. The camera zooms in and we hear wails of pain and see faint traces of blood smeared across her arms. Is it hers, you wonder, as she falls into the whiteness, writhing and contorting, creating the imprint of a bloody snow angel. Then the credits do roll. What’s this? Did someone queue the film up wrong?

It’s the only outdoor scene in the film, and an apt encapsulation of Noé‘s envelope-pushing style and its ability to pique, unsettle, enrapture and linger. After the credits, the film cuts to an old boob tube playing VHS audition tapes of dancers with names such as Cyborg, Psyche and Gazelle who tell the camera why they love to dance and want to be part of a troupe heading out on tour. Packed tightly around the television are DVD binders of “Salò, or 120 Days of Sodom,” “Suspiria,” “Taxi Driver” and similarly macabre flicks. It’s a pretty good indication of where this is all going – kind of. Continue reading

Roma

8 Dec

‘Roma’: Calling on the maid to be a mother when chaos strikes a family and ’70s Mexico

 

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Alfonso Cuarón, the Mexican-born director who’s made a reputation of tackling a wide variety of subjects and milieus, hopping from the depths of outer space (“Gravity”) to barren, post-apocalyptic futures (“Children of Men”) and even Harry Potter and Dickens (“Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Great Expectations”), returns to his homeland – where be crafted his signature tale of taboo sex and betrayal, “Y Tu Mamá También” – to forge the semi-autobiographical contemplation “Roma,” something of a nostalgic dream cut with historical incident and unhappy reality. Folks who could never bite into the floaty neorealism of Fellini’s “8½” or “Amarcord” will struggle with the director’s languid sense of place and time, hoping for more of the disruptive chaos of the earthquake, wildfire and class revolt that punctuate the film. The central dilemma of a pregnant housemaid abused and abandoned by her lover and trapped by her unenviable station in life might not jump off the page, but for those who give it time, there are rewards.

The time is the early ’70s (aptly Fellini-esque) in Mexico City, as the camera swirls around the doings of an upper-middle-class family. Dad (Fernando Grediaga), a doctor, works long hours at the hospital while mom (Marina de Tavira) and the housemaid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) maintain the homestead and look after a brood of corrigible youth. Mom and Cleo care, but are not the most effective homemakers. Mom dings up the car every time she takes it out and Cleo allows mounds of canine fecal matter to amass in the driveway – cars skid and people slip on poo, it’s a running thing. The film’s driving factors are the father’s sudden and prolonged absence as well as Cleo’s pregnancy: How she gets pregnant, the father’s reaction and the end result of which provide for surprising turns.

“Roma” moves in subtle, wispy ebbs fueled by undercurrents of class and gender oppression. There’s a poignant yin and yang in every frame. Fate and circumstance factor large too as the action moves from the cloistered streets of the city to the bourgeois countryside, even a muddy hillside slum and ultimately a riot (the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1970). Throughout it all Cleo and Sofia rally frantically to keep the children safe, despite considerable setbacks. “Roma” is clearly a love letter to the women who made Cuarón the person he is today.

The film, shot by Cuarón himself in black and white – an artistic high-dive against the grain but in good company (think “Schindler’s List,” “The White Ribbon” and “The Artist”) – is a scrumptious wonderment to behold. If there’s any subversion, it’s that “Cold War,” another foreign language film in a similar format yet radically different style, could give Cuarón a run in the best-cinematography category.

Artistic merits aside, the key to “Roma” is the patiently quiet and soulful performance by Aparicio. Clea’s fleeting optimism amid repressed pain amid continual reminders of her subservient role are heartwarming and heartbreaking. You want her to break out and do something bold, but in her quiet resolve there’s a deeper dignity that transcends.“Roma” is not about good or bad, but about connecting and persevering.

Museo

5 Nov

‘Museo’: Robbing the museum is one thing, getting rid of the haul afterward is impossible

 

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The title in English means “museum,” where one of art pair of thirtysomething slackers works. Hard up for cash and a new lease on life, the burgling duo pull off a heist of Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology on Christmas Eve, absconding with priceless artifacts that include a beloved Mayan mask. Based on true events from 1985, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ “Museo” cuts an eerie parallel to the Isabella Gardner Museum heist here about five years after. As in our infamous crime, the rub becomes what to do with the booty – it’s impossible to unload due to its indelible notoriety and the efforts to secure its return.

When we meet Juan (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Benjamin (Leonardo Ortizgris), it seems highly improbable they could pull off the lifting of a 10-cent candy bar, let along priceless art under heavy security. These guys are so tethered to their boyhood base that they have to borrow Benjamin’s father’s car for the caper; afterward, sitting around with him watching the breaking news, he berates the culprits not knowing it was his son and friend.

That’s largely how Ruizpalacios’ film unfurls – in surreal wisps of comedy, gonzo happenstance and meandering circumspect. Shot in lush, wide frames by Damián García (who also shot Ruizpalacios’ debut feature,“Güeros” in 2014), “Museo” has a wide-eyed feel. These lads are in over their head and, to complicate matters, are arrogant – well, Juan is, and Benjamin would follow him off the edge of a cliff without even looking down. The best evidence is the relentless negotiation with an uninterested art dealer (Simon Russell Beale) in the middle of entertaining mucky-mucks on a posh veranda overlooking the sea.

Everything becomes a near fiasco, but the pair seem to be imbued with near unlimited luck as they head on to the next new means to pawn the art. Their relationship becomes frayed along the way, and as they fall apart so do their prospects. The two actors sell it, too, forging a chemistry that spans the gamut from mutually shared hope and camaraderie to jealousy, blame and contempt. Bernal, best known for “Y Tu Mamá También” (2001) and other crossover works, anchors the film with his commanding charisma as a man on edge who wants so desperately to be in control, while Ortizgris, who starred in Ruizpalacios’ earlier effort, serves up the vulnerable offset. They nail a character study that rewards, even if the characters don’t necessarily.

One of the beauties of “Museo” is its rambling nature. It might not fit into any traditional classification, but it is a wondrous work of art, from frame one to finish.