News Column

A look at the Modern's Contemporary Mexican Cinema festival

December 5, 2013


Dec. 05--Back in the '90s, a new wave of Mexican filmmakers began to make a global splash. Alfonso Cuar n ( Y Tu Mama Tambien), Alfonso Arau ( Like Water for Chocolate), Alejandro Gonzalez I rritu ( Amores Perros) and Guillermo del Toro ( Cronos) made distinctively contemporary Mexican cinema that nevertheless resonated around the globe. Hollywood soon came calling, launching careers that would deliver such films as Babel, 21 Grams, Pacific Rim and, one of this year's biggest smashes, Gravity.

In conjunction with its "Mexico Inside Out: Themes in Art Since 1990" exhibit, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is introducing the next generation with its Contemporary Mexican Cinema mini-fest, running Thursday, Dec. 12, through Dec. 15. It kicks off with a free screening of Me Quedo Contigo, a film from Mexican artist Artemio, whose art is featured in "Mexico Inside Out." Artemio will be there for a Q&A after the movie. Note that this film is rated NC-17 as it includes mature subject matter and violence.

Of the films in this festival seen for review, the name you're probably going to want to remember is Gerardo Naranjo. The writer-director has two films showing, Miss Bala (2 p.m. Dec. 15) and I'm Gonna Explode (4 p.m. Dec. 15), and each courses with a youthful energy and a distinct sense of time and place, while telling compelling stories.

The striking Stephanie Sigman stars in Miss Bala, an absorbing story set at the intersection of ambition and thuggery. Sigman is Laura Guerrero, a working-class Tijuana woman who, along with a friend, Suzu, enters a Miss Baja California beauty contest. But, while at a nightclub, Laura and Suzu (Lakshmi Picazo) find themselves in the middle of a gangland cartel attack. Suzu is killed and Laura finds herself a lone survivor -- something that hasn't escaped the attention of both the gang and the cops.

This 2011 film, loosely based on a true story, taps into the fear of innocently being thrust into criminal crosshairs. It also paints a complex portrait of a struggling life in which winning a beauty contest is seen as the only ticket out of poverty. Naranjo balances suspense with a skillfully drawn character study that makes you want to know more about this world.

The decidedly less serious 2008 film I'm Gonna Explode (Voy a Explotar) is equally engaging, though in a different way. It takes a familiar theme -- youthful alienation -- and turns it into something whimsical and winning. Juan Pablo de Santiago is Rom n, a 15-year-old who just doesn't fit in anywhere, especially at school or with his careerist, politician father. After trying to get away with staging his suicide during a school talent show, he discovers that the only person who appreciates his sensibility is the equally out-of-sorts Maru (Maria Deschamps), and the two decide to run off together. While it's hardly novel as a road movie, the quirky I'm Gonna Explode is never less than entertaining.

Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light (2 p.m. Dec. 14) is set in a subculture few English speakers get to see: that of the Low German-speaking Mennonites of rural northern Mexico. The 2007 movie is a hypnotically slow yet fascinating story of Johan (Cornelio Wall), a married religious farmer and father of several children. He is being torn apart by his desire for another woman, but passions don't boil over here. They simmer, and Reygadas captures every moment over the course of 130 minutes, whether it's the lengthy opening sunrise, the daily farm routine by which Johan measures his life or the conversations that often are more about silences than words.

The combination of Naranjo and Reygadas -- as well as Kyzza Terrazas' Machete Language (7:30 p.m., Dec. 13), about a couple of aging social activists, which I've not seen -- shows that the new school of Mexican cinema can certainly hold its own.


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