There's something effervescently lovely about Gueros, the first feature film of Alonso Ruizpalacios. Apparently critics agree, as the debut has come away with five awards in the Mexican Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director. Gueros is evocative, nostalgic, while being ever so present at the same time. Shot in black and white with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, it's an artistic romp that manages to evade pretension.
The movie opens with a dalliant act of teenager Tomas (Sebastian Aguirre), who is hereby banished to live with his older brother in Mexico City by his fed-up mother. Sombra (Tenoch Huerta), his brother, probably isn't the good influence his mother hopes him to be. He and his roommate Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris) live a slacker lifestyle: professing themselves to be on strike from the current student strike, stealing electricity from their downstairs neighbors and slumped listlessly on the couch as they watch the aforementioned electricity cord slide off the balcony before they're plunged into darkness.
The movie doesn't linger on this Linklater-esque deadbeat life, but morphs into a journey that picks up radio voice revolutionary Ana (Ilse Salas), and continues a legendary quest for childhood hero Epigmenio Cruz, whose songwriting prowess reportedly once made Bob Dylan cry.
Gueros has the same sort of meandering life that Sombra does. Freewheeling between characters to give us an evenhanded approach to Tomas, Sombra, and Ana, we have a movie that is a sort of coming-of-age, a sort of slice of Mexican revolution life, and a sort of road trip. It's evocative of Linklater, of Godard, of a Mexican beat generation, and yet it's completely unique. Gueros is the closest thing to French New Wave seen in the past decades, and there's enough gorgeous creative manic energy to give the audience nostalgic and charmed pangs for the Nouvelle Vague era.
I can't say enough of these brief glimpses Ruizpalacios allows us -- the low-angled shots of Mexico streets at night, the staccato of heavy drum soundtracks to overtake our senses, or those few shots where a character listens to Epigmenio on headphones and the movie's sound cuts out entirely. Shadows, peeks of light, close shots allow us an intimacy and an aching familiarity with what we see even if Mexico is a foreign land to us. Ruizpalacios dips his toes into self-awareness, allowing us to delight as characters suddenly break out of their molds to talk directly with the director or to contemplate what they think of the ongoing movie ("not much"), but only enough to charm us. Sombra talks of a tiger that haunts his nightmares and quotes Rilke's The Panther, only to come face to face with his fears later on.
It's hard to put a finger on what exactly is the pulse or the draw of Gueros. The storyline doesn't quite solidify or coalesce, but it doesn't need to. The fact that it doesn't quite shape lends itself to the playful, evanescent quality of it. It's remarkable how something so light-touched can feel so vibrant and relevant. We don't know why Tomas acts the way he does in the opening, but that's perhaps a motif that resonates through all of our heroes' actions and inactions. And that's all right. Ideas, themes, and meaning drift in and out of Gueros, but not without leaving an indelible mark.
Gueros can still be caught in Seattle at The Grand Illusion.