Photo: Catatonia Films

Review: Güeros

Güeros is the debut film from Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios. It is a beautifully shot, meandering coming of age film, demonstrating the real conflicts and learning processes of growing up.

Tomas (Sebastian Aguirre), a rebellious teenage boy, is sent by his single mother to live with his brother, a student in Mexico City. His character is deadpan, responding to his situation with resignation. His feelings are never fully explored, and he remains a slightly inaccessible teenager throughout the film. We learn about him primarily through what he sees—and in this way, the character development is subtle.

More is revealed about his brother, Sombra (Tenoch Huerta), who lives in a small apartment with his friend Santos. We first see them at the breakfast table, with close-up shots of coffee being poured, cigarettes being lit and cards being shuffled—a typical student scene. They are both part of the student strike, but Santos has become disillusioned from the movement’s aims. He seems playful and jokey, however, as the film progresses, it becomes clearer that he is deeply troubled, affected by panic attacks. These are the uncertainties and conflicts of youth. He possesses a desire to change things, but lacks in knowledge the best way to go about this.

These student strikes, and Sombra’s attitudes towards them are brought up throughout the film. They visit the campus to pick up Sombra’s love interest—the impassioned student activist Ana. The walls are emblazoned with slogans, and an assembly reveals the tensions between goals—who are the students fighting for? But despite this division and the almost high school movie presentation of its different groups, the film does not aim to criticise.

The boys are on a mission to find a dying, unknown Mexican rockstar—whose song they have listened to since youth—in order to get his autograph on their cassette tape. We never hear the song, and this creates the impression of the brothers bonded by a force that is not quite visible to the audience. Tomas is the one most enthusiastic about this mission; he is, perhaps, the least jaded compared to his brother.

But the mission leads them to drive across the city on various adventures. Their informal jokey conversations and interactions undercut the potentially serious arty nature of the film. The dialogue in the film does not flow—it is disjointed and realistic. In this way, the journey itself becomes the thing of importance rather than the goal.

Arguably it is the cinematography in the film which is central to the film. Filmed in black and white, its use of specific camera angles also reveal French New Wave inspirations. It is a beautiful film, with banal moments amplified through closeups and jump cuts. The soundtrack is also disjointed—with moments of silence and sound effects, which add further emphasis to these small moments.

It is possible to argue that this film is more about the style than its ability in making judgements on people or events. But this is perhaps in reflection of the characters’ journey. They are moving through life, learning and observing what’s around them—and this wide-eyed observation is central to the film’s aims. This is an indie film about growing up, with beauty and a subtlety of presentation that marks it out.


Tags: Alonso Ruizpalacios, French New Wave, Güeros, Sebastian Aguirre

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