Rudo y Cursi
by Carl Whinder
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This being the first release from Cha Cha Cha, the production company formed by Mexican cinemas holy trinity of Del Toro, Cuaron and Inarritu, Rudo y Cursi was always going to struggle to match the expectation. Throw in international Mexican stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, reuniting for the first time since Y Tu Mama Tambien, in a film by Cuaron’s younger brother, Carlos, and it’s no wonder the film isn’t quite the sum of its parts. In terms of the personnel involved it is to be expected, that the same accusation can be levelled at Rudo y Cursi’s narrative is more disappointing, even if this is an endearing and entertaining study of boys struggling not to become men.
Perhaps sensibly Cuaron Jr aims for an intimate story of a pair of Guerrero banana plantation working brothers who dream of becoming football stars and building their mother the house of her dreams. Like Y tu mamá también it is about the desires of two young men, unlike Y tu mamá también, but fittingly given its subject, it plays out like a Roy of the Rovers fantasy. The events that transpire and speed with which Rudo and Cursi’s ascent to the top of Mexican ‘soccer’ occurs is both dreamlike and nightmarish, accentuating the conflict permeating the celluloid, whether it be sibling rivalry, class divide, football tribalism or plain old fate versus choice.
The most enduring image of the film is a pre-opening credits shot of a discarded statute of Jesus, nailed to the cross but positioned at just enough of a jaunty angle for the addition of a pair of goalkeeping gloves to make it look like he is about to pull off a save. While the parallel between the safe hands of Jesus and a Goalkeeper, the potential saviour of their supporters hopes and dreams, is an obvious one, here it is more pertinent because, as Guillermo Francella narration informs us, a goalkeeper is viewed as a spoiler, a wrecker of dreams. While fortune may throw Rudo and Cursi a lifeline it’s the choices they make that determines the direction destiny takes them in and it is in this image of Jesus, evocative of higher forces and life’s comic tragedy, we find a metaphor that perfectly encapsulates the film.
Cuaron, as writer and director, bravely attempts to straddle the line between the sublime and the ridiculous, finding humour in the most desperate of situations. Yet at times this causes a tonal blurring as the social commentary and earthy banter sits uneasily with the more fantastical narrative leaps and plot holes. While the performances and dialogue keep the spectator involved and certain scenes create moments of genuine comedy and tension it is difficult to buy into the brothers’ story due to its detached reality. While others may feel that the spectacular nature of their journey is befitting a film about the fantasies of two man boys it never fully meshes with the gradual incursion of adult responsibility and the tainted world they live in.
As the boys escape the poverty of the countryside for the bright lights of Mexico City they bring with them an innocence ill-suited for the ‘beast’ of Francella’s voiceover. The city promises so much but is full of temptation. Batuta (Francella), the agent who discover them, has a collection of trophy girlfriends on his arm and bungs in his back pocket. Cursi becomes romantically involved with the celebrity TV presenter of his dreams but fails to pick up on the exploitative nature of their relationship and Rudo himself is exploited for his desire to play the odds. The metropolis may be the fulfiller of dreams but it is also unforgiving of weakness. This is not to say the countryside is seen as a bastion of incorruptibility. The boy’s mother and Rudo’s girlfriend may be reliable maternal figures, raising their children despite absentee fathers, but they are still not immune to the desire of material possessions or a comfortable life. However Rudo and Cursi’s mother’s acceptance of a house from her new drug lord son-in-law is born out of a life of drudgery and disappointment, unlike the pure greed that motivates Cursi’s girlfriend and the male exploiters they encounter.
Rudo desperately craves a paternal figure, holding his absent father in reverence, yet seemingly unable to take care of his own children. His wife castigates him for gambling their blender instead of the arcade football machine he vainly attempts to claim is for their son and impatiently deflects his son’s attention to concentrate on watching a cartoon. His tantrum throwing and predilection for gambling leads him into trouble, at first with his team mates and then with a nefarious betting syndicate. Yet at times his inability to communicate like an adult can be comically touching, when for example he attempts to motivate his brother during a poor run of form by enlisting the help of a ball boy come messenger to bait a bench ridden Cursi by calling his mother a whore. Bernal pitches his reaction perfectly as he displays Cursi’s mix of anger and confusion at his brother’s berating of their own mother. Luna and Bernal are excellent throughout, Luna full of belligerent self pity but displaying a hangdog charm, Bernal slowly moving from wide eyed wonder to brattish naivety.
It a shame that the film as a whole can’t display the same touch and subtlety of its leads, in trying to blend the fantastic and the real Cuaron has made a pleasurable, rather than truly satisfying film.
Carl Whinder Reviewer and filmmaker based in Brighton, UK
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