By César Andrés Mena
Talent is needed to make films and some people are more privileged than others, and this is indeed the case for Mexican filmmaker Alonso Ruizpalacios. He began in the art world as an actor and theater director until he shifted his focus to the world of cinema. One could say he’s as a rebel with respect for the academia who’s broken into the film industry with an aggressive narrative and eye for cinematography.
After making two short films awarded with the Ariel (which can be found online), Ruizpalacios fell into his first feature that included writing his own script. When he finally hit a writer’s block during the writing process he invited Gibrán Portela to work with him. He brings to this film some of the elements present in his shorts; the black and white shooting, the dry and unexpected humor, the passion for balloons, road trips and how he handles certain sequences.
In an obvious exploratory exercise where he shows his best as film director, he recycles himself in the best possible way, perhaps knowing that a feature film gets more visibility than a short film. Standing apart and wanting to leave a mark not only within Mexican cinema but also worldwide— he indeed succeeded with Güeros.
The film is set today during a university student strike at UNAM. Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre) is a boy who is sent by his mother to spend some time with his brother Sombra (Tenoch Huerta). Sombra is a university student striking against the strikes and spends his days with his friend Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris) in an apartment turned pigsty.
Both Sombra and Santos are in a standstill while they should be finishing their theses. The strike is not important to them and they spend their days in idleness feeding the filth that eats their lives. Tomás begins to be imbued by this desolate place but he tries to resist himself. Epigmenio Cruz, an old and forgotten Mexican rock star who is on the verge of dying changes everything and the circumstances move the three characters to look for this mythical man.
When I was thinking about Güeros, a successful film at many film festivals— awarded in San Sebastian, Berlin and Tribeca, just to name a few, I pictured a common road movie, with no high pretensions, that was able to create a climax going from point “A” to point “B”, without many complications— I could not have been more mistaken.
Ruizpalacios surprises in his first feature with the total profusion in the visuals and argument— he had already showed us some of these elements in his shorts. With an explosion of creativity beyond the script and impressive camera work, he takes us out of our comfort zone, and what we are left with is the simplicity. Although his film is a typical black and white with not very garish characters that toy with being intelligent and to make it to festivals in Europe— he actually achieved his goal.
That’s why he is a rebel, an aggressor to cinema, a man who knows how to embellish his images and never tired of hand holding the camera. He plays confidently with his numerous shots, manages sound as he pleases, breaks what is obvious, makes us laugh with his characters and dry humor while still clever at times and not so much in others, but nevertheless funny.
It’s a film with many readings and an obvious social background represented in this fictional university strike, very similar to the one in 1999-2000, in a moment when the Mexican society is suffering critical and decisive moments, precisely around university students. Is this representation perhaps meant to draw the attention of his countrymen to awaken from a slumber of many years?
We can see this through the character that of the forgotten musician, a guy that Tomás and Sombra say could have saved Mexican Rock music and could have made Bob Dylan cry. He is the forgotten superstar, the historical figure that nobody remembers, slowly dying. A history that is forgotten can be turned into the biggest wrongdoing of a society, condemned to repeat the same errors later.
The connotation of güero, reappearing throughout the story and defined since the beginning of the film, is also the evident differentiation between Tomás (blond) and his brother Sombra (brunette). Furthermore, these young men move between several different zones in Mexico City, where they are identified as such even if they do not feel as such, there is a more than obvious rejection to the word güero.
On the other hand, Ruizpalacios makes some references to films where he plays with reflexivity— he plays with the audience, winking to us. These are some flashes of geniality throughout the script, making the film even more enjoyable.
Güeros is alluring to the eye, the ear and the intellect. It is a huge and risky work— a gem in the highest sense of the word. It is the consolidation of a director that will give us a lot to talk about and to who’s path we should follow.
César Andrés Mena is a film critic based in Costa Rica.
Text translated by José Raúl Guzmán. This text is presented in a collaboration with the Costa Rica International Film Festival "Paz con la Tierra," as part of their Film Criticism Lab. Special thanks to Karina Avellán and Marcelo Quesada.