Before La Revolución: Güeros

05/20/2015 8:30 AM |
photo courtesy of Kino Lorber

Directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios
Opens May 20 at Film Forum

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter—so whenever the trio at the heart of Güeros listens to a certain tape, this antic movie stills, and we hear not music but the scrape of spinning spools. The tape is an old recording of a folk singer named Epigmenio Cruz—the man who made Bob Dylan cry, goes the legend, which only the teenage Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre) and his older brother Federico, called Sombra (Tenoch Huerta), seem to know. Sent to stay with Sombra in Mexico City, Tomás finds his brother in a state of devolution; there’s a student strike at UNAM, where Sombra studies, but he spends his days at home with buddy Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris), stealing electricity from the neighbors, listening to his strike-leader crush Ana (Ilse Salas) on pirate radio, and trying to stave off a panic attack.

Like Jan-Ole Gerster’s 2012 German hit A Coffee in Berlin—but with New Wave rather than New York DNA—Alonso Ruizpalacios’s first feature is shot in mostly handheld black and white, and after that apartment interlude, rambles all over the capital of a country struggling to get past a past that’s often present. Both movies gleefully aim their slingshots at their national film industries; at a hotel-roof party where only the well-born Ana is at home, Sombra complains that grabbing a bunch of beggars and shooting in black and white is how they make art movies in Mexico. Soon after there’s a nighttime stroll with a raving man—the point being wry complicity just as much as a reminder that there’s hardly a place in the Distrito Federal without beggars.

Ruizpalacios isn’t really interested in lessons. His movie starts with a water balloon dropped onto passerby, swivels past a brick ditto, abandons another potential ending on the highway, and looses Ana back into the strike. In reality, the 1999 UNAM strike lasted eleven months before being broken up by federal police. But why make revolution when you’ve got a set of wheels, and, like Tomás, a camera to play with? The world is too variously beautiful. The soixante-huitards mostly let us down. But if this promising director continues taking his cues from Godard, it’s possible he’ll find himself committed to something other than indecision.