Alonso Ruizpalacios’ Güeros is a stunningly filmed dark/satirical comedy that is both a social satire on the suppression of the masses by the elite and a representation of the despondency of an entire generation of young people in Mexico. The title of the film is a slang derogatory word used for someone who has fairer skin and with that, the film places itself historically in the student protests of the late 90’s and the disenchantment of young people with a country and its system.
The film had me reminiscing about the brilliant Polish film from last year “Ida” (which bagged the best Foreign Language Oscar) as this one too is shot beautifully in black and white. Every frame is really a visual treat.
It’s the late 1990’s. Tomás (Sebastian Aguirre) is a troublemaker to the hilt, and the day when he bursts water balloons on a baby in a stroller is when his mother decides to ship him off to his older brother, who lives in Mexico City.
The older brother Federico a.k.a Sombra (Tenoch Huerta) lives an aimless good-for-nothing life and shares his blaringly unkempt apartment with Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris), another idle young man. Their school is on strike against the government’s arbitrary decision to raise fees and Sombra has self-declared that he is on strike against the strike, as for him it has lost meaning and the real voice of the people it represents.
While Ruizpalacios’ characters on the face of it don’t seem to carry much merit, they do stand firm in their criticism of everything that surrounds them. Sombra’s school is on perpetual strike, so he spends his days sitting and wasting life with his roommate Santos, as a critique of a society that makes people thoroughly unproductive.
Tomás finds out that one of his favourite artists Epigmenio Cruz is dying and is in a local hospital. With nothing better to do, he convinces his brother and Santos to visit the artist before he dies. The three set out of this urban road movie journey to visit Cruz, because Tomás wants an audiocassette he got from his father autographed by the singer.
Tomás has a lighter skin tone, while Sombra is darker (thus the nick name Sombra in the film). The racial/skin colour rhetoric is subtle in some scenes and more obvious in others. The idea is that a social critique is attempted both on the front of the anti-government movement led by the students and on the race divide seen through the prism of close quarters like that of these two brothers Tomás and Federico: the irony of proximal differences.
Later in the film, Sombra speaks directly to the audience and slams indie filmmakers who use poverty, characters and the like as props to ‘authenticate’ films. Very interestingly, the film continues on its journey with lack of much concern for a story.
While on the journey, these young people (now four, as the Sombra’s ex-girlfriend joins them on their journey) finally come to a café/restaurant, as the film is ready to conclude.
Hilariously, Tomás is to realize that Epigmenio Cruz will never sign his audiocassette, while Sombra finds himself in the middle of a protest, just as lost as he was when the film started.
Kudos to Alonso Ruizpalacios for a complex and visually delightful experience.
Güeros is now playing at Cinema du Parc.