Monday, March 16, 2009
Rudo y Cursi ***1/2
Director: Carlos Cuarón
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna
Guillermo Francella, Dolores Heredia, Jessica Mas, Adriana Paz
Writer Vernon Young once said "[Ingmar] Bergman is the only practicing director who can make an eloquent film from a rag, a bone and a hank of hair."
Vernon was probably not being literal about the elements but about the ability a good film has to go beyond the boundaries of theme, subject and whatever interest the audience might have in them to find something they can connect and identify with.
That is the case with Carlos Cuarón's debut film "Rudo y Cursi" which had at least three different possibilities it could've been tagged, and boxed, within but cleverly escapes them all.
The film opens in a Mexican coastal town where brothers Tato (García Bernal) and Beto (Luna) work in a banana plantation.
Besides a job, they also share a home with their mother (the superb Heredia), Beto's wife (a wonderful Paz) and children, plus the dream of leaving their town to pursue their ideal careers.
Beto wants to be a professional goalie for a football team, while Tato, who is just as good playing football, dreams of becoming a singer. Their dream becomes possible when Batuta (Francella), an Argentinean talent scout, accidentally runs into them when his car is being repaired in their town.
He asks to become their manager and when they agree has them move to Mexico City where they end up playing in opposing football teams and obtain the title nicknames; Beto is "Rudo" ("Rough") and Tato "Cursi" ("Corny").
Their consequential rivalry only serves as canvas for an elaborately satiric landscape of modern Mexican, and Latin American, society in general where the illusion of easy wealth and love of the sport have become interconnected.
Cuarón's screenplay ably mixes the right amount of humor and drama in a way following the formula used in his famous work for "Y Tu Mamá También"; this film also has offscreen narration, provided by Batuta who delivers wise parables and parallels about football and life.
Most of the film relies on contrasts to work at its best, some include the perils of confusing game and war, being disappointed by the discrepancies between talent and passion and the ever present inadequacies present in fast social class change.
Therefore, the funniest parts in the film come when the lead characters' ways scream "nouveau riche" as they buy the fanciest cars, wear the oddest clothes and hairstyles and pursue dreams which had been limited by their lack of economic means.
It's also curious, and admirable, how Cuarón never lets Rudo and Cursi become aware of these facts; should we feel less by what our dreams are?
García Bernal and Luna provide splendid work; at first their rural accent might sound affected by those who can perceive them stressing their acting chops. Eventually these slightly distracting elements give path to fully realized performances.
García Bernal releases a contagious energy that makes Cursi's dilemma between who he is and who he wishes he could be, more heartbreaking than funny.
When he becomes involved with a notable TV celebrity (Mas) he represents the realization of the hopes who for most remain unfulfilled (Cuarón has a hard time avoiding his story to become a morality tale though).
Luna's Rudo, who got the nickname for the aggressive way he acts on the football field, embodies a very masculine need to overpower everything. That he has problems with his wife serves as an appropriate balance to his volatile persona.
It's funny how the way Cuarón sometimes drives his characters to extreme, almost caricaturesque, opposites doesn't ever get out of his hands.
And in the same way the entire movie relies on contrast, its real beauty lies in the balance found in the overlapping situations.
This becomes more obvious with Francella's character (that he is an Argentinean narrating a movie that revolves around Mexican soccer is a delicious inside joke), Batuta (which literally means "conducting baton") is a man that directs other lives, perhaps because he lacked purpose in his own, or perhaps because this was what he always wanted.
Early on the film paints him a bit like a devil figure, in one of the first scenes where he watched Rudo and Cursi playing (offscreen to us) his eyes light up in such a way that they represent both "ka-ching" and a childlike joy in finding people who would be perfect for his orchestra of sorts.
Throughout this Francella steals every scene as he exists on three different levels: as who Rudo and Cursi know, as what he knows himself to be and as our link to everything (he breaks the fourth wall on a couple of occasions).
People who watch the movie ignorant to the Latin American sociopolitical context will enjoy it for its effective storytelling, ultimate values and engaging characters.
Audience members however don't need to have a clue about what football is about (most of the matches are offscreen and we barely see Rudo and Cursi actually kicking or grabbing a ball, the sport is merely a McGuffin perhaps?) which is why this can't qualify as a "sports movie".
In the end it's slightly surprising that some people will find themselves biting their fingernails as the movie leads to its final, life defining match.
Those who have a clue about the universe where the film takes place in will probably be even more delighted for the way everything about it defies conceptions.
"Rudo y Cursi" could've steered into an offensive parody about the Latin American way of life, a sports film or a star vehicle based on the audience draw of its two leads.
That it doesn't encompasses the ultimate melancholic spirit of a movie meant to show us that what we want isn't always what we need.